Author Replies to Johnston’s Critique
To the Editor:
I completely concur with Jill Johnston’s charge that my Rauschenberg obituary [Sept.-Oct. 08 issue] was “written from a viewpoint outside the artist, not from the, or a [sic], artist’s view looking out.” As I cannot presume to know Rauschenberg’s perspective, I am forced to rely, impoverished, on my own. But this I do know: I never in any way attempted to “blame” Rauschenberg for his closetedness. On the contrary, as the substance of my article reveals, I believe that Rauschenberg brilliantly found the means to contradict his own silence about his sexuality in and through his work. What scorn I feel is reserved for the art historians and museum officials who are complicit in keeping Rauschenberg’s silences intact long after the means to decode his work is known.
No small part of what made Rauschenberg’s work of the 1950’s and early 60’s so strong was that its claimed absence of expressivity and reference was repeatedly contravened on its richly expressive and referential surfaces. And I am trying to think through the larger ethical dimensions of the historical fact that a highly utilitarian understanding of the mechanics of oppression produced, at great personal cost, great art. So I’ll quote Johnston’s quotation from my original article in closing. “But Katz speaks from a kind of anti-art perspective. In the end, he says, ‘I want a queer art … that invents new forms for representing our desire, that makes queerness not the represented subject of the work, but its mode of operation, makes it a verb, not a noun.’ He adds, ‘But I want it without the costs Rauschenberg and his circle had to pay.”’ Johnston adds: “Katz may get such an art, but it would be relegated to ‘queer galleries’—and I personally would never go to them.” I would, and I do.
Jonathan Katz, Philadelphia
Morning Becomes Presentable
To the Editor:
There’s an interesting story about the George Quaintance painting, Morning, that makes an appearance in Jeff Auer’s article, “Cowboys on the Cover of a Magazine” [Nov.-Dec. 08 issue]. The painting is shown as it appeared on the cover of the February 1952 Physique Pictorial.
The original painting had to be modified to appease censors at the U.S. Postal Service before it could be reproduced in print. In the original, the model in the water trough is gazing directly at the crotch of the cowboy lathering up on the edge of the trough. For the magazine, Quaintance altered the head of the cowboy in the trough so that he appears to be looking to the viewer’s left. The image was also cropped to remove the bare buns of the man in the trough, and a lot more soap suds were added to conceal the genitals of the dark-haired cowpoke.
Ken Furtado, Phoenix
Challenging GLAAD’s Achievements
To the Editor:
I read Joan Garry’s self-congratulatory “Taking On Dr. Laura and The Times” in the November-December issue, and must note that I do not remember GLAAD [Gay & Lesbian Alliance against Defamation] “taking on” Dr. Laura either primarily or even importantly. An organization called StopDrLaura.com began the fight and had contacted the announced major advertisers for Dr. Laura’s upcoming TV show and got the most important sponsors to cancel in advance. GLAAD dragged their feet; and, despite Joan Garry’s claims of secret meetings with Dr. Laura, joined in the public opposition belatedly. Anyway, StopDrLaura did not negotiate with Dr. Laura at all; they opposed her openly in publications and in demonstrations in the streets, noting, by the way, that she was in no way qualified to make all those psychological attacks on gays: her doctorate was in sociology.
I continue to be amused by the references to Dr. Laura’s “deeply held religious beliefs.” She kept saying that her beliefs were based upon her “traditional Othodox Hebrew” training. There may be more homophobic traditional Orthodox Hebrew rabbis than gay-friendly ones, but they are nowhere near the number of the traditional Orthodox rabbis who would object to Dr. Laura’s commenting upon and interpreting the teachings of their religion. She should know that in the traditional teachings of that religion a woman must sit apart and may not stand upon the alter (even in a wedding; and the bat mitzvohs are a modern heresy). Furthermore, Orthodox Hebrew men must pray daily in a group of at least ten wearing yarmulka, tallis, and tefillin, and one of their daily required prayers gives thanks to God for “not making me a woman”! Modern Judiasm has greatly reformed the Orthodox Hebrew tradition, which is powerful, but a minority even in Israel. But that foolish creature hadn’t a clue as to what the religion she claimed to believe in is all about.
Herbert M. Simpson, Geneseo, NY
Stick to a Legal Model of Gay Rights
To the Editor:
Barney Frank and the G&LR are both treasures of the gay community. And both of them made a significant and alarming mistake in the September-October issue. In his article, Mr. Frank uses phraseology such as “GLBT rights … among other social issues” and in doing so suggests that gay marriage is a social issue rather than a legal one. I see it as strictly a civil rights issue and a constitutional one.
To characterize the fight for equality of gay civil rights as being a cultural or social issue waters down the legal basis of the argument that our right to marry is grounded in the Constitution. Surely both Mr. Frank as a long-time advocate for gay rights, and the G&LR as the gay community’s leading intellectual periodical, have a duty to ensure that the issue of gay civil rights is properly framed.
Todd Piccus, Venice, CA
Finding Happiness in the 50’s
To the Editor:
After reading Martin Duberman’s remarks at the Harvard Gay & Lesbian Caucus dinner in June 2008 [Sept.-Oct. 2008 issue], I was once again dismayed at the apparently universal opinion that all gay men of my generation (born 1928) went through Sturm and Drang before they accepted their homosexuality. Continually I read more and more writers who use generalizations similar to Duberman’s: “We [homosexuals]were sick; we had a character disorder. … The good news was you would be able to change your sexual orientation.” And he’s still “grappling” with the scars.
My diary from this period is a document testifying that I—and many of my friends—did not feel that we had a character disorder. We enjoyed being gay. When we went to the bars for men in Boston, we didn’t “sneak off in terror of being seen.” (Duberman missed out here, too, in saying that there were only two Boston bars for men in 1952–57. There were many more than that, as my diary attests.) On the contrary, we felt brave and excited to be breaking a law we knew was misguided.
While most stories of gay men of my time have stressed the terrors of accepting their nature, there are a few well-known coevals who, like me, appear to have accepted their homosexuality fairly easily. Gore Vidal, Ned Rorem, and John Rechy come to mind. I don’t recall that any of these guys ever felt a need to see a psychiatrist (as I haven’t). But their early acceptance is rarely cited (here I go generalizing) as an example of early gay sensibilities.
I think it important that future historians know that not all lives of early homosexuals were miserable, that some of us survived very well.
Preston Claridge, Fort Lauderdale
More Memories of John Glines
To the Editor:
Your Artist’s Profile on John Glines brought back fond memories of “The Glines,” and of the time that I, as a young theater student, approached John with the idea of directing a production of Jean Cocteau’s telephone monologue, “The Human Voice,” with a male playing the part of the abandoned lover (instead of the usual female). I’ll always remember how open and supportive he was to the ideas of a mere neophyte. And although we never got beyond the initial audition process, I’ll always be grateful for the sense of security and empowerment he instilled in me.
Michael Ehrhardt, New York City
Mea Culpa, Walter Pater
To the Editor:
In response to William A. Percy’s letter to the editor [Sept.-Oct. 08 issue] concerning a mistake in my review of Heather Love’s Feeling Backward [July-Aug. 08], the mistake was mine and not Love’s. I seem to have placed Walter Pater at or near the Oscar Wilde trials of 1895, even though Pater died in the previous year.
Love’s actual text says: “While Pater avoided the fate of the most famous martyr to homosexual persecution, Oscar Wilde, his position at Oxford was seriously undermined after rumors spread of his affair with an undergraduate, William Money Hardinge.” Love cites as her source for that Linda Dowling’s Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian England. While a great deal of information about Pater was added to the review that went beyond my knowledge of him and anything that Heather Love wrote, the words “first hand” were mine. My apologies to Heather Love and those connected with her book.
Martha Miller, Springfield, IL