Expanding the GLBT Tent
To the Editor:
Samuel Delany’s essay “Alphabet Soup in Provincetown” [Jan.-Feb. 2004] reads like a well-intentioned plea for inclusiveness to the established literati of lavender letters, but it oddly struck me as the voice of a brother-from-another-planet à la Rodney “can’t we all get along” King. No doubt, the community has yet to come to grips with the last letter in this so-called [GLBT] alphabet soup, the “T”; cues are in the language as well as behavior.
Gays and lesbians (perhaps Delany himself) often describe transgender folk as passing for straight if we date or marry the opposite of one’s “birth sex.” Some may distance themselves, since we may be perceived as too queer for queer. For example, female-to-males are coming out, joining hands (and mouths) in a race to chalk up sexual partner statistics like Delany’s in biological “man”-on-man loving. If a bio gay man sleeps with an FTM, most likely there will be a feared perception that he isn’t really gay anymore. (The leather community gets an A+ for acceptance in this area.)
Truth is, as an African-American female-to-male transsexual in San Francisco, I have received more respect from straight and bisexual colleagues and friends than from the gay and lesbian, and in some cases the transgender, communities. Queer people can’t seem to get the pronouns right! Transgender individuals in queer space often find others staring from the corners of their eyes, looking for the woman in your face, chest, or crotch. Race and class are clearly important in this big tent comfort equation. I was fortunate to transition successfully in a corporate setting. Progressive queer San Franciscans don’t quite know what to do with a 44-year-old black tranny who owns a house in the city, a house on the Russian River, two cars, two dogs, and who’s been in the same committed relationship for over fourteen years (are they straight or are they gay?). And although I served a year on San Francisco’s Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force, I don’t quite fit the queer marginalized T profile.
I applaud Brother Delany for his courage to tee-up the topic of inclusiveness in our communities, and encourage acceptance in whatever shape-shifting form our rich culture embodies.
— S. Nathaniel Jackson, San Francisco
With Beauford Delaney
To the Editor:
I side with Christopher Capozzola and David Leeming about Beauford Delaney’s sexuality being furtive [article in the Sept.-Oct. 2003 issue and debated in subsequent issues], since he patronized the same jack-off movie house in New York I did in the early 50’s, before he went to Paris. And I don’t believe he changed his preferences there.
In that era, Variety Photoplays, even then an old relic of a movie theater on the Bowery, before it was rescued and restored as a legitimate off-Broadway theater in the 70’s, was patronized mostly by bums, off-duty taxi drivers, working class family men, mostly Greek and Italian, escaping their crowded tenements and heterosexual lives. I’ve described my years of haunting the place in an essay that was published in Parnassus magazine. As I walked down the aisle looking for a seat next to a guy I went for, I would frequently see Beauford Delaney sitting among the middle-aged ethnics he preferred, and indeed he told me he’d made friends with some of them. There was a lot of mutual jacking-off going on under coats, and it wouldn’t be hard to spot, but it was only occasionally that the usher, patrolling the aisles, would kick anybody out for it. For the Bowery was one of the few neutral zones, where the police allowed pretty much everything to go on.
This way of fulfilling our sexuality was very much dictated by the difficulties of being gay before Stonewall, and many of us were irrevocably shaped by fear, and continued with forms of secret sexuality even after our liberation. Though I eventually came out of the closet, as well as the movie house, and found a life partner, Beauford never did, and I’d say he kept on with his secret sex life, which unfortunately fed his paranoia, for there is always the threat of exposure and subsequent dire punishment.
— Edward Field, New York
Spirituality Slighted by Gay Media
To the Editor:
Thank you for reviewing my book Gay Perspective: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us About the Nature of God and the Universe (Nov.-Dec. 2003). I won’t complain about the review (any review is better than none), but in its brevity the review failed to communicate the central message of the book—which, I think, is frequently also the “central message” of the G&LR—that gay or queer consciousness is fundamentally different from “normal” consciousness and deserves its own myths, symbols, and metaphors for capturing the meaning of our lives. Gay spirituality is not just about making a place for us within conventional, normal religion (as the “gay marriage” debate so frequently sounds). It truly is a critique of the nature of religion itself.
In general, the gay media give short shrift to religion and spirituality, covering controversies like the consecration of Bishop Robinson because they are political, but seldom if ever dealing with the substantive issues, as if they were unimportant to gay readers. In fact, religion is the issue in most gay people’s lives, if only because we are always having to respond to the religious opinions of other people. So many of us suffer such guilt and damaged self-image because of religion. We need help in combating the anti-gay teachings and in answering within our own minds—and in the public arena—just what is wrong in those teachings. Indeed, the churches have strategically made themselves the enemy of our civil rights and personal dignity. We can’t just ignore what the religions are saying about us. Besides, gay people, like all human beings, deal with the real questions of religion: the meaning of life and the nature—and concomitant responsibilities—of consciousness.
Within the loosely defined “gay/queer spirituality movement,” there is wonderful assistance for leading good and happy lgbtq lives. It’s in this arena that some of the most basic questions about the nature of homosexuality are being addressed. Yet it is seldom acknowledged in our own press. The transformation of religion—to a modern, scientifically sound, yet also mythologically rich and mystically and emotionally satisfying worldview—is in the best interest of gay rights and sexual liberation. And to the extent that our movement necessarily challenges the churches that have made us their enemies, the modernizing of religion may prove in the long run to be the greatest consequence of our struggle.
— Toby Johnson, San Antonio, Texas
Two errors crept into Greg Varner’s review of Art—A Sex Book in the March-April issue: the artist of the book’s cover illustration is Mike Kelley; and the author of the review is the former arts editor for the Washington Blade.