Reply to Critics
To the Editor:
I enjoyed reading R. E. Tippet’s intriguing letter and Calvin Skagg’s snippy one in the November-December issue in response to my review of Colm Tóibín’s The Master in the previous issue. Thank you, R. E. Tippett—I do indeed know that the girl in the telegraph booth was from “In The Cage,” and thanks for reminding us all that The Awkward Age, written at the end of this period, was another adolescent character study in which James seemed to try an end-run around the stage by presenting a play between book covers.
Reviewers have several disadvantages. One is that we receive uncorrected galleys months in advance and changes are indeed made to the text later. Then, too, between the reviewer’s desk and the printed page others sometimes feel behooved to correct errors that are not necessarily mistakes.
As for Mr. Skaggs, from his highly aggrieved tone he appears to have some as yet undisclosed interest in either the novel or in the author. He asks, do I expect Tóibín to write “then I sat down to write Turn of the Screw”? No. And I don’t know how Tóibín should persuade me that James is a novelist here. That’s Tóibín’s job to figure out. He did not persuade me. In my own novel about nine writers, The Book of Lies, I danced around that very problem by employing a slew of postmodernist devices, and no one complained.
The truth is, I gave Tóibín’s book enough attention to feel that while I came to know much about Henry James the man, the writer eluded me totally, something he does not do in his letters. And that Henry James—who was a failure in this period before Turn of the Screw became a best seller—still hasn’t been pinned to the page.
Felice Picano, Los Angeles
To the Editor:
I was pleased to read Janet Mason’s review of my biography, Alice Walker: A Life, in the current issue [Nov.-Dec. 2004]. However, an otherwise informative review was marred by several factual errors that, to my mind, could have clearly been avoided had the reviewer been a bit more diligent. Ms. Mason writes that Ms. Walker’s 1976 novel Meridian was published in 1967. Correctly describing The Color Purple as Walker’s “best-known work,” Mason writes that the 1982 novel was published in 1979. She cites 1984 as the release date for the Steven Spielberg film adaptation of the novel. The correct date is 1985.
Believe me, I am mindful of the plethora of facts and figures in Alice Walker: A Life. This “Mount Everest of data,” as one reviewer put it, is precisely why readers will find in my book, on pages 465-469, a Chronology and Publications List for Ms. Walker. Having written hundreds of book reviews myself, I know that reviewers are often compelled to work from uncorrected galley proofs in which there are routinely errors and misprints. However, it is the responsibility of reviewers (and their editors) to check work against the published text.
That said, I applaud you for including the voices of gay, lesbian, bi and transgender writers of color in The Gay & Lesbian Review.
Evelyn C. White, Oakland, California
A Post-Identity Society?
To the Editor:
I like to take ideas as far as they will go. They only get there mentally, for in the real world there are those mischievous “intervening variables.” So, let’s take all those people written about in “The New Post-Straight” [article in the November-December 2004 issue]. Identities, I take it, are to be rejected. No gays, no straights, no homo- or heterosexuals. Just individuals. They may or may not toy with the Queer label.
Will this be temporarily chic or more long-lasting? Or does it represent the rootless, history-less, identity-less individuals adrift in a consumerist world? Can we really escape our multiple identities? Should we? Where is identitylessness to stop? Are we no longer Americans? That’s certainly an identity. No more Jews, whether Ashkenazi or Sephardic? No Appalachians, Cajuns, or new Yorkers? No poets, litterateurs or entrepreneurial free marketeers? Those are identities too! Are we sure we are really human beings, or is that, sadly, also an identity?
Without identities we are unidentifiables, nonentities, incapable of solidarity or collective political self-defense. I can see some value in getting away from being uptight about sexual identity. I reckon this will not go all the way to complete universal identitylessness. Ideas never survive long enough to reach their logical conclusions, and for that we are indeed thankful.
Laurence G. Wolf, Cincinnati, Ohio
Picano Slights Women’s Early Role
To the Editor:
In regard to Felice Picano’s review in the November-December issue of the G&LR, “Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality,” I propose a follow-up article. How about “Beyond Misogyny and Sour Grapes”?
In the third paragraph of the article, Picano comments that “so many American lesbians opted to involve themselves in feminist organizations like the National Organization for Women, this groundbreaking anti-shame work was done chiefly by gay men.” My goodness, why might that be?
Could it be because a), many of the early gay rights organizations such as the Mattachine Society were male-dominated, with many of their leaders as contemptuous and dismissive of women as yourselves. Or could it be because b), organization such as NOW focused much of their attention on issues such as economic equality for women and harsher penalties for rapists and abusive husbands? Most women (and I daresay most men) find themselves easily distracted from the prospect of a potential orgy when they’re struggling to feed and house themselves, or living in fear of an attacker from whom the police refuse to protect them.
Picano is not the first man in the gay community who I have heard expressing the opinion that the problems of lesbians are nothing compared to those of gay men. He is, however, the first to complain that women can only rise in the playing field when men forfeit the game, “like Anne Northrup and Sarah Schulman, whose newfound power and prominence was due in some measure to the disappearance of so many gay men.”
Does Picano ever stop to consider how many women, gay or straight, have given their time and energy to the issue of AIDS and its victims? If the shoe were on the other foot and AIDS were an illness that principally targeted lesbians, would there have been an equivalent response from the gay male community? Not for a minute. Everyone would have been too busy getting torn to pieces at the Mineshaft or something, at least in Picano’s perfect world.
I have many male friends whom I love dearly. Some are HIV-positive, and it worries me, especially when they come from unsupportive families. Some I have helped financially to buy groceries, medications, etc., even though I’m hardly independently wealthy. Some of these friends have tried to return my favors or at least shown me unfailing common courtesy, while others have told me through their actions that they see women as useful nursemaids, incubators, or fag hags. When I beg to differ, I’m labeled a bitchy dyke who needs to get off the rag. Once again, it’s a case of men who feel they’re the ones who are entitled to make the rules about what women are supposed to be, whether they’re interested in bedding them or not. I don’t see how such an attitude is any different from that of Dr. Dobson or that Falwell creature.
Picano’s dismissal of David Sedaris’s work as “neutered sitcom prose” is blatantly mean-spirited. Just because someone’s style of work isn’t in the same vein as one’s own does not diminish his contribution. Sedaris is a gifted writer and a warm and thoughtful human being. And being commercially successful is nothing to apologize for either. Living well is always the best revenge.
I respect the place that Picano holds in the world of gay literature, not to mention the Violet Quill Society. Most of my favorite gay writers are men, including Edmund White. I feel there is a gap of sorts in lesbian literature, and I hope I’ll be lucky enough to help fill it. But my respect for these accomplishments does not extend to my quietly swallowing the idea that I am only a marginal human being whose life is worth less than a man’s merely because my estrogen supply outweighs my testosterone.
Laura J. Merrell, Kettering, Ohio
The Women of Gay Porn
To the Editor:
After reading “Straight Pen for Gay Men” by Karen Thomas, I felt compelled to let people know that the phenomenon of heterosexual women writing graphic porn about male-male sex is not really all that unusual, at least in the world of amateur fan writing.
Beginning on a large scale with the original TV Star Trek, fans of the show wrote their own stories set in that universe. It didn’t take too long before some women were quite literally “going where no man has gone before” and writing very explicit stories about sexual relationships between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.
These stories ranged from sweet romances to cruel and vicious rape and torture tales, with just about everything in between. From there, this sort of fan fiction has spread to many other shows and movies, especially those with two male leads. The vast majority of these stories are written by straight women and enjoyed immensely by other straight women. (And, yes, there are also lesbian relationships in fanfic, most famously Xena/Gabrielle.) The Internet has given a great boost to this entire genre of fan writing, as it provides a free and effective way to make it available to a wide audience.
So take heart, Karen Thomas. You are far from alone!
Kerwin L. Schaefer, New Bern, North Carolina
Gay Republican Taken to Task
To the Editor:
The election is over and your “Election Issue” [Sept.-Oct. 2004] a distant memory, but I nevertheless want to respond to the Log Cabin Republican, Chris Barron, whose article filled me with alarm, and still does. If this politically savvy gay man could be so mistaken about George W. Bush and the Republican Party, then so could many others. Unfortunately, my concern was borne out by the one million or so gays who voted for Bush, which was basically the same number as in 2000. Those who did should reflect upon the fact that they probably helped return this dishonest homophobe to the White House.
Mr. Barron’s argument in support of the Republican Party falls down in a number of areas, the first of which is homeland security. Just because another attack has not happened during the administration’s tenure is not evidence of their competence in this area. Physicians (of which I am one) learn very early on the fallacy of easily believing results distinguished by a zero numerator. Any research study that reports a result of zero out of N (where N = the number of patients, determinations, etc.) is very carefully scrutinized before a medical treatment paradigm shift occurs.
The pre-emptive war with Iraq remains problematical, from the rationale for its undertaking to its disastrous prosecution. Nothing has surfaced that connects Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda or the events of 9/11. Nor did he have weapons of mass destruction. Despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, these were the underpinnings of Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, about which the mainstream media inadequately informed the public. Some are now starting to see that the war might just be a stealth move to transfer huge amounts of public funds that Congress would not have otherwise approved to the military-industrial complex, the leaders of which are known to be avid Republican supporters.
The implementation of the Patriot Act and the request for additional powers under so-called Patriot Act II are a stark testament to the true nature of the Republican Party’s stance on civil liberties. The abuses, over which many civil libertarians are almost literally up in arms, affect us all.
The deficit, which Mr. Barron conveniently ignores in his essay, will ultimately harm everyone dependent upon low interest rates for their slice of economic prosperity, as rates rise so the US can continue to sell the bonds necessary to finance the national debt.
Mr. Barron promotes the concept that the Log Cabin Republicans want “the Party to return to its roots, built on the notion that all Americans should be treated with equality.” That all Americans be treated equally is a goal about which there’s no argument. The only problem is that platform adopted at the 2004 Republican convention is not silent on gay rights but expressly homophobic. It’s clear that the supplications of the Log Cabin Republicans over many years have not brought any forward movement in the Republican Party. Passage of Republican-endorsed state same-sex marriage bans in eleven out of eleven states is stark proof of this.
Mr. Barron refers to the fifteen billion dollars pledged by the administration in the global fight against AIDS, but his applause for Bush on this front is particularly galling to this HIV-positive writer. It was John Kerry who introduced the legislation for these funds (US Leadership Against hiv/aids, TB, and Malaria Act) into the Senate in 2002, which President Bush signed in 2003. To this day, the Bush administration has not responded to the non-partisan AIDS-Vote questionnaire. Funding for U.S. AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs) has been flat, which means that some people cannot get the meds they need to stay as healthy as possible. The continued promotion of abstinence-only programs and denigration of condoms will most certainly continue. This places religion over science, which not only is a clear violation of the separation of church and state but will also place more people, especially youth, at risk. The excessive oversight and outright interference in federally funded research that involves HIV and homosexuality will also likely continue.
As the immediate impact of Kerry’s defeat fades, our community must not accept it as some sort of de facto evidence that we were wrong to seek equality under marriage law. The only sure ways to reverse the homophobic trend are: first, to come out so that our families, friends, neighbors and co-workers know that when they vote on the basis of so-called moral issues they vote against us as human beings; and second, to vote for politicians in the mid-term elections and beyond who oppose the trend. To do any less is not only a blow against the GLBT community but also one against civil rights in general.
John K. DesMarteau, M.D., Washington, DC
A feature in the May-June 2004 issue, “New Pedagogy on Ancient Pederasty,” by Beert Verstraete, assigned a quotation to Marilyn Skinner that actually belongs to Nancy Rabinowitz. They’re the two co-authors of a book the author was citing in support of his argument.
In Felice Picano’s review of Patrick Moore’s Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality in the Nov.-Dec. 2004 issue, it is stated that Assoto Saint was Jamaican-American. He was actually born and spent his early years in Haiti.