The Plight of Youth
To the Editor:
In all the nuanced permutations of terms and self-images of gay and lesbian youth, Michael Amico has left out the single and most significant human need that drives GLBT people: the desire, the need, for love and to find a loving partner.
There may be reasons for his oversight. He might not know how autobiographical his essay is. It was certainly clear how in fifteen paragraphs. Unhappily, he failed to examine the moments when gay and lesbian people recognized that they had different emotional affiliations from their friends. And for them, what happened? And more importantly, where they were going on the social ladder. Once aware of their orientation, everything common in the growing sexual/social life of their friends were taboo to them: they could not hold hands, they could not lightly kiss while they were waiting for the bus, they could not dance together, they could not join their heterosexual friends in parties and sleepovers, and they could not talk about sex. In one big and many small strokes of discovery there was the enormous denial of the necessary growth experiences. That hole in the maturing process postponed growth experiences sometimes all the way into their twenties or thirties.
For Mr. Amico to say, “Gay young people have veered towards a more heterosexual definition of their sexual relations” fails to see the desperation about an identity that in actual sexual acts is easily recognized by the people. They know that they are different, at least most of them. For the person to see his sexuality in terms used by heterosexuals speaks to a double failure on the part of the gay media: there was the need to address the straight world about minority sexualities and to reinforce the difference; and the need to address the gay and lesbian minority that theirs is a normal aspect of human sexuality.
In the meantime, gay and lesbian young people, from early to middle to late adolescence, have missed out by not having the experience of lovers who are mean-spirited, self-indulgent, generous, exploitative, sharing, and so on, even as their straight friends honing their sensibilities to be able to make reasonable estimations of the nature of their partners. All this is largely lost on GLBT people. As a result, one hears all the permutations present in Mr. Amico’s explorations. It’s all about sex, and words are the gyrations of trying to keep friends and be oneself at once.
There are few if any references to what has brought a young person to his or her self-image, not in terms of prohibitions, which he explores elaborately, but about things like worthiness, honesty, self-reliance, and courage in the presence of abuse. There are few references to the ways frail gay and lesbian people can build their assurances through community commitments. There are few references to academic, professional, psychological, and social groups that can define the differences and the similarities that are present in the human spectrum.
If you are a whore; if you are a virgin; if you can’t define sex even though gay and straight men both wake up in the morning with an erection; if you can’t define what is “coercive and exploitative”; if you wander in a maze of self-inflicted denunciations, fears, self-disgust—it’s a diagram of social failures not in any way restricted to gay/lesbian young people. Some sound advice for young people would be not to spend too much time with names and labels but to find routes for themselves, and seek out experienced people whose self-definitions are rewarding, loving, and fulfilling.
Burton Shapiro, The Bronx
Objection, s’îl vous plaît
To the Editor:
Thomas Armbrecht’s article on France (May-June issue) is, to be polite, muddled: identity politics are hardly the invention of either queer theory or postmodernism, both of which have been deployed against certain notions of identity. These, of course, are matters of interpretation. However the statement that: “Mitterand’s election to power in 1981 meant the decriminalization of homosexuality…” is so breathtakingly wrong that it should not go unanswered. Have neither the author or his editors heard of the Napoleonic Code: a clue, why does he think Oscar Wilde left Britain for France after his imprisonment?
Dennis Altman, LaTrobe Univ., Australia
Editor’s Reply: Agreed, sodomy was never recriminalized after Napoleon, but it’s worth noting that many discriminatory laws against homosexuals were enacted in the 19th and 20th centuries, to be repealed only after 1979.
Where Burt Ended It All
To the Editor:
I was reading, and enjoying, Andrew Holleran’s latest essay in The Gay & Lesbian Review [“Sex through the Ages,” July-Aug. 2005]. One thing, though: the Burt Lancaster movie in which he commits suicide after an episode of impotence is not The Leopard (Visconti) but 1900 (Bertolucci).
Brendan Lemon, cyberspace
Due to editing errors, two mistakes occurred in George De Stefano’s “Southern Italy: Puglia gets a gay president” in the July-August 2005 issue. The article stated that Nicola Vendola’s win in Puglia “did not signify a victory for gay culture per se or for identity politics according to Puglia,” when the source for the citation actually was sociologist Enrico Finzi. Also, Rifondazione Communista, the party to which Vendola belongs, has defended workers from Italian premier Berlusconi’s privatization of the economy, not “refugees.” Elsewhere, the sense was conveyed that U.S. politicians instinctively turn to name-calling, when the author’s point was that Democrats often respond to right-wing epithets by running from them, while Vendola embraced his detractors’ slurs and turned them to his advantage.