Letters to the Editor

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Not Buying “Bi” Study

To the Editor:

Your latest BTW [Sept.-Oct.] endorses a flawed study claiming that even self-identified bisexuals are really either gay or straight.

Like the New York Times, you obviously didn’t do much looking into the “research” that was conducted. It involved attaching blood flow meters to men’s penises and then showing them same-sex porn (male-male or female-female). The researchers did not show any of these men any hetero porn because they said it would be “too difficult to ascertain whether the men were being aroused by the male or the female in that scenario.” Did you know that 35 percent of the men had absolutely no reaction to either kind of porn, and were thus thrown out of the study? Aside from ignoring that arousal does not equal orientation, the “study” also assumes that reaction to porn is the only measure of arousal.

The researchers then state, and you completely buy into, the factoid that women’s sexuality is more fluid over a lifetime than men’s. The reality is that sexuality is fluid for everybody, and it’s a hell of a lot more complex than just what makes one’s dick hard. You seem to have some kind of agenda by which you have to discredit that bisexuality exists.

I’m here to tell you that it does exist and I am living proof. I am a bisexual man who tends to cycle between a stronger attraction to men and a stronger attraction to women. So, if I were given this test at any given point in my cycle, I could show as “gay” or “straight”—or, for that matter, as neither or both.

Why does the fact that bisexuality exists seem to threaten you so much that you’ll start grasping at the most tenuous and questionable “science”? Why was the study even done in the first place? Why can’t people accept that people are who they say they are? I find it amazing that in a community that will not accept others defining their sexuality for them, there are still troglodytes like yourselves that continue to try to do to others what you would never accept for yourselves!

Jim Fenter, Boston

 

Author’s Reply:

The BTW items—of which I am in fact the author (the secret is out!)—are written in a somewhat lighthearted, even a sardonic vein. But you seem to have taken my 91-word jibe very seriously indeed, and at great personal suffering, so, what the hey, I’ll stand by my statement on its merits. As coincidence would have it, I’m also a social scientist and former research director who’s keenly aware of the importance of sound methodology.

The study in question actually struck me as quite clever because it bypassed the usual self-reporting and measured a very measurable physiological response. Of course, there are limits to what can be done in sex research, and porn is often used as a surrogate stimulus. So you would insist on live action?

But even if this study were fatally flawed, it’s scarcely the first to suggest that sexual orientation is fairly “bi-modal,” i.e. clustering near the poles rather than forming a “bell curve.” The research I’ve seen convinces me that true bisexuality is in fact “relatively rare” in men, which is the phrase I used in my squib, adding that it’s apparently more commonplace in women. So why accuse me of stating that bisexuality doesn’t exist, when clearly I did not? Of course it exists in both women and men, and many or most people may well be capable of a bisexual response. But for whatever reason, the vast majority of men seem to gravitate to one end of the spectrum or the other.

As for my “agenda,” I actually wish bisexuality were closer to the norm, as this would square better with my personal world view. But you can’t always get what you want in science.

Richard Schneider, Jr., PhD, Boston

 

One More Time: How tolerant was France?

To the Editor:

Sorry to act the historical nit-picker, but Richard Berrong, in his letter to the editor in the July-August issue, commits two errors with respect to the French criminal code and its treatment of homosexuality. He states that “in France homosexual acts have not been subject to criminal prosecution since 1804 with the installation of the Napoleonic Code—not, as Armbrecht states, since 1981.”

It is often said that Napoleon’s famous Code achieved the decriminalization of sodomy in 1804, but it was the Constituent Assembly that did so in 1791, by simply omitting any mention of sodomy in its penal code. The Code Napoléon of 1804 was in fact a civil-law code, and hence irrelevant to the definition of sexual crimes. The relevant Napoleonic law, the Penal Code of 1810, merely imitated the code of 1791, making no mention of sodomy. This does not mean that French homosexuals had an easy time of it thereafter. The police still persecuted them under articles of a penal code that outlawed “public offense against decency,” “debauchery,” and so forth.

Less well known is the partial re-criminalization of homosexuality in France during World War II, implemented by the Pétain government in 1942 and preserved by de Gaulle, to be repealed only in 1982. The law punished same-sex relations involving persons under 21 with prison terms of six months to three years, while the age of consent for opposite-sex relations remained at thirteen. Police harassment and arrests continued through the 60’s and 70’s. So the repeal of the Vichy-era law in 1982 was indeed a momentous step forward for gay emancipation in France.

Steven Spencer, Toronto 

 

“Poland Agonistes”: Reply to Critic

To the Editor:

I am sorry to notice that Chris Bell’s critique of our text on Poland [May-June 2005 issue] is rather mean-spirited and neglects some facts as well. I understand the idea of the variety of views and support it, but the author seems to suggest that we misinformed the American public and G&LR readers. Thus he undermines our academic and journalistic credibility!

Bell didn’t understand that our essay had a specific focus and was not intended as a general summary of all things queer in Poland. My writing for G&LR has a certain history and I don’t consider it necessary to repeat the same things again and again, for example that queer activism and life exist here too. Our cooperation started with a piece in the May-June 2003 issue. The subject was queer art and activism in Poland and its power and æsthetics, not its agony. In the same vein I am currently curating the second edition of my exhibition “Love and Democracy” about the diversity of amorous and erotic stories in Polish art, which will open in May 2006 with an English catalogue.

The truth is that the debated essay has a pessimistic and surrealistic tone. But it was inspired by very special and weird phenomenon of Mel Gibson and Richard Cohen’s irrational success in Poland in 2004. Not a fun episode. The text was tailored to an American audience that can certainly relate to those “heroes,” and drew some comparative reflections on globalization, homophobia, and fundamentalism. It was a dark perspective not only on Poland but also on America in the frame of EU human rights concerns. Living between western EU countries and Poland, I see how politically backward Poland is in the area of women’s and GLBT rights. We see Poland through EU human rights legislation, not through decades of living here, decades that would destroy our sensitivity to the constant violation of our rights and dignity.

Pawel Leszkowicz, Poland

 

Gender Imbalance in the Poetry Issue

To the Editor:

Maybe it’s time you renamed the magazine “The Gay Male Review,” or perhaps “The Gay & Token Lesbian Review.”

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised—I’ve long chagrined at how underrepresented women are in your pages—but I was stunned and insulted by the lack of any real discussion of poetry by gay women in something calling itself “The Poetry Issue.” One piece on one lesbian poet out of seven articles, and one consideration of a 19th-century woman actor’s memoir among nine book reviews (six written by men) is even less inclusive than the abysmal record of The New York Time Book Review (for years, I counted the number of women represented in each issue, just to see how far the Times’ treatment of women writers as second class could go). I think that you’ve topped them in unfairness. What could you have been thinking?

Until now I haven’t counted, but it has seemed to me that Poetry Editor David Bergman has usually done a good job of choosing poems by women in numbers comparable to those by men—no complaints there. And your editorial does drop four names of acknowledged stars among those of the men: Dickinson, Stein, Bishop, and Rich. But even given Hannah Tennant-Moore’s piece on the wonderful Eileen Myles and an art memo about a photo of Stein and Toklas shooting pool, almost all of the poetry issue is by and about men—many of them poets I respect and love and even count among my friends, but a terribly skewed picture and a huge disappointment. In 2005, I am so over being marginalized by the marginal elite. “Hear the voice of the Bard!” indeed! Did you even consider a conversation that might discuss the work and influence of lesbian poets, dead or alive?

Just a partial list of possibilities, to remind you: Amy Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Muriel Rukeyser, May Swenson, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Pat Parker, Irena Klepfisz, Judy Grahn, Susan Griffin, Marilyn Hacker, Dorothy Allison, Olga Broumas, Naomi Replansky, Chrystos, Cheryl Clarke, Minnie Bruce Pratt. These are not lightweights but friends, mentors and equals with the men your contributors discuss—many of these lesbian poets recognized as “major” by people who care about such rankings. This was a missed opportunity for the Review and for all its readers.

Joan Larkin, poetry editor, Bloom, New York

 

Editor’s Reply:

Sigh. Where to begin? First, I must register my surprise at the vitriolic tone of your letter, coming from a fellow editor, evincing no curiosity about the process by which this issue, which was admittedly lopsided, came about—the possibility that expected copy never materialized, or that the editor tried and was rebuffed. I’m sure my old friend Diane Hamer won’t mind if I mention that I expected her short piece on Gertrude Stein, charming as it was, to come in as a feature-length article.

Your letter implies that there was somehow a deliberate policy to exclude women, which is far from the case. What it reflects is the situation that I’ve faced from day one: a large number of enthusiastic men competing to have their work published, and very few women coming forth save those that I proactively contact, invite, cajole, or whatever it takes.

But also, the fact is that the Review has been publishing for twelve years now, so it’s not as if people don’t know we’re here. For years I’ve been announcing forthcoming themes in our Bulletin Board, and I began to announce the poetry issue last winter. So why don’t more women submit articles and proposals? I’ve asked some women this question, and they usually say it’s because they see the Review as predominantly a male publication, while they’re looking for a female readership. At which point we’re caught in an old vicious circle that comes to no good end. (For the record, women comprise about 22 percent of our subscribers.)

You gave us a pass on the poetry we publish in each issue, which I hope is merited. We receive eight to ten times as much poetry from men as from women. David Bergman does a fine job of selecting worthy poems by women, and most issues have one in three works by a female poet—which means that women who do submit poetry have much better odds of being published than do men.

Finally, what happened to your analysis of the Times Book Review, which seemed headed for some kind of numerical comparison but left us dangling? Well, did we win the unfairness face-off with the Times? Just curious.

Thanks for your interest in the Review.

 

Laud Humphreys: Correction & Reflection

To the Editor:

In reviewing Laud Humphreys in the July-August issue, Thom Nickels mentions that critics considered him a “one-hit wonder” because Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Pubic Places was his only book. This is not correct. Two years after the publication of Tearoom Trade in 1970, Laud published Out of the Closets: the Sociology of Homosexual Liberation. If the biography failed to mention this book, it should be faulted for this omission.

The review also says that those who criticized Humphreys’ methods of gathering data for Tearoom Trade did so on the basis of “distortions of his method, including the charge that he followed subjects to their homes and published his findings without their consent.” Humphreys indicates that while observing in public restrooms, he surreptitiously recorded the license numbers of cars that drove up to the public park restrooms. He then had a friend who worked for the state government find out the names and addresses of their owners. He then included them in a public health survey, disguising himself when he went to their homes so that he wouldn’t be recognized.

These procedures would violate the ethical standards now employed to protect human subjects. The subjects were deceived as to the purpose of their being interviewed and the uses to which the data would be put. He placed them at risk of being outed involuntarily. While these standards did not exist in 1970, no human subjects committee today would approve of the methods Humphreys used.

David F. Greenberg, NYU Sociology Dept.

 

To the Editor:

I am now a retired gay man, single here in the USA, turning 64 next month, and in a category that society here does not know what to do about: Old Gay Men Living on Social Security. It is said that during this period one is to reflect upon his past, the lessons learned, and life’s experiences both good and bad. So, when I saw your review and got a copy of Laud Humphreys, Prophet of Homosexuality & Sociology, a flood of memories was triggered. How lucky I have been to share a brief moment in a time of Laud’s life, a period of education for me, and love of a great man who I will always say was a mentor to me.

Briefly, the story goes way back to Los Angeles [in the 70’s], where I was involved with IMRU, the Gay Radio Program, and the national social club called Gay Sexual Freedom (GSF). It was through them that I met Laud at a lecture—I, a thirty-something man full of ideas, and this well-educated icon. We seemed to hit it off. I had read his Tearoom Trade, and it was a lecture about that book that allowed me to invite him to a GSF meeting. From then on we saw each other a lot, and he arranged for me to get a grant to attend Pitzer College. My fondest memories of him were of the weekend afternoons in his smoke-filled office at Pitzer, just talking about whatever crossed his mind. Laud’s classes were the most popular and hardest to get into on campus.

I was able to repay Laud’s kindness in a small way when he and Nancy were getting a divorce by helping him sell his home and move into a new place with Brian [his young lover]. I had to leave LA shortly after that for a better job and lost contact with Laud, until one day I read in the paper of his death. I cried and cried over the loss of a man who had opened my mind more than I could have thought possible.

Ralph M. Neil, San Jose, CA

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