Letters to the Editor

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Congressman Clarifies Events of the 80’s

Dear Editor,

Don Gorton’s critique and analysis of the effort to advance GLBT rights within the Republican Party [Jan.-Feb. 07 issue] is superb. Mr. Gorton’s own courageous effort to work with Massachusetts Republicans to advance GLBT rights gives him great moral authority, and when he concludes that “the present political reality is that efforts to advance equality and outmaneuver the religious right from within the GLBT have become untenable” and that “it may be possible in the future to reclaim the party of Lincoln as a vehicle for securing GLBT freedom, but for the present we must look elsewhere,” he drives home a profoundly important political fact.

But there is one peripheral issue where I believe his memory has failed him—not surprisingly, since it involves events that took place in the late 1980’s. He refers to my “traumatic coming out experience.” I did undergo some political trauma involving my sex life, but that happened more than two years after I came out voluntarily. I hope people understand why it is important for me to separate these two events—both because I am proud that I came out voluntarily without any pressure, and because I don’t want people to be able to use the fear that a simple coming out will be “traumatic” as an excuse for not doing so.

I decided early in 1987 to confirm voluntarily the fact that I am gay in an interview with a [Boston] Globe reporter, Kay Longcope. The action was the opposite of traumatic—in fact, it was so positive that it confirmed my view that I had made a mistake by waiting so long.

The trauma came well over two years later, in late August 1989, when a hustler whom I had hired in 1985 decided to take revenge upon me precisely because after my coming out in 1987, I broke off relations with him. He had in fact been very angry at me since the fall of 1987, but for a while couldn’t figure out how best to get his revenge, since the fact that I had come out voluntarily would have diminished the impact of his announcing that I had paid him for sex.

After some time, he announced in August of 1989 that I had not only hired him for sex, but that I had allowed him to run a sex ring from my apartment, that I had brought him into the House gym to commit unspeakable acts of various sorts involving other people’s lockers, and that I had engaged in a conspiracy with him to obstruct justice involving his prior drug convictions.

Most of these allegations were fictional, as I was able to establish after a six-month-long investigation by the House Ethics Committee. The Committee did find—accurately—that he had misused my Congressional privilege to avoid parking tickets when on official business, by misrepresenting to me what he was doing on occasions when I thought he was running some errands for me, and that I had lied in a letter to a lawyer about how I had met him. For this I was reprimanded.

One last point. In a way that I could not have anticipated, his effort to destroy me by revealing the fact that I had paid him for sex during the period when I was closeted turned out to be the one thing that I was able to use to explain to many skeptical straight friends and colleagues why I had felt the need to come out publicly. Many of them had cautioned me in 1987 against doing so, fearing that it would diminish my political effectiveness. That is, they were doing it out of concern for me, not out of homophobia. I tried then to explain to them why continuing to live in the closet was such a difficult way to live, but not having experienced it, many of them did not fully understand it. Only when it became clear that I had behaved as stupidly and irresponsibly as I had while in the closet did they accept the fact that my coming out was, given all the circumstances, a reasonable choice.

Barney FrankU.S. House of Representative, Washington

 

Revisiting an Era in English History

Dear Editor,

Patricia Nell Warren is a wonderful novelist but her attempt at history leaves much to be desired. Her “Of Freemasons, Kings, and Constitutions” [Nov.-Dec. 2006] is so full of historical inaccuracies, especially with regard to Scottish history, that it borders on fiction itself. First, there are the multitude of factual errors. Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”) was not the son of James II but his grandson. Queen Anne was not the daughter of William & Mary but the sister of Mary, both being daughters of James II. The Stuarts did not all remain Catholics. Once the Reformation succeeded in Scotland in the mid-16th century, the Catholic Mary Stuart, the “Queen of Scots,” had to flee to England where she eventually lost her life. Her son, however, the future James I of England, was brought up Protestant and stayed in the faith until his death in 1625. And his son Charles I, who was beheaded by Cromwell and his cohorts, also remained Anglican. Puritans were suspicious that both monarchs desired a more high-church style (Arminianism) that smacked of Catholic ceremony with its preference for liturgy over preaching, but they remained staunch Protestants throughout their lives. James I even gave us the King James Bible right after a Catholic conspiracy to dynamite king and parliament was foiled in the infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605. James and Charles certainly did not represent monarchies “as absolutist as the old Catholic variety.” There hadn’t been a Catholic monarch in England since the death of Mary Tudor in 1558. Neither was James I an “autocrat who insisted on the ‘divine right’ of kings.” James wrote two political treatises that promoted divine right theories but never ruled in anything approaching an autocratic or even absolutist manner, as his major biographer Jenny Wormald (among others) has repeatedly shown.

After Cromwell, the situation certainly changed. Charles II did become a Catholic on his deathbed and his brother James II, who converted earlier in his adult life, did follow his brother to the throne in 1685, in that faith. But during the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89, the Stuarts William and Mary signaled the restoration of a Protestant monarchy and signed on to England’s first-ever Act of Toleration, even if it was limited and exempted Catholics. (Mary was James II’s daughter and, as cousins, both she and William were descendants of Charles I.) On the other hand, Charles II and James II did issue various Declarations of Indulgence that suggested support for religious toleration, but these were probably thinly veiled attempts to legalize Catholicism, with most English and Scots at the time believing that, once implemented, they would lead to the gradual erosion of nonconformist rights. This point is certainly debatable, but Ms. Warren’s more categorical statement that these Stuarts were more tolerant is at best conjectural, and at worst not sustainable in light of most of the evidence. In fact, the sources suggest that Cromwell—while also hostile to Catholics (who were seen as foreign agents)—was more tolerant than the Stuarts, even to the point of welcoming the Jews back to England 350 years after their expulsion by Edward I. This issue of Charles II’s support for toleration is most clearly discussed in Ronald Hutton’s superb study of kings; but Warren appears not to have consulted this important secondary source. Also, despite Ms. Warren’s contention to the contrary, most scholars today believe that the Act of Union in 1707—which joined England and Scotland to create Great Britain—was supported more by the Scots, who stood to share in England’s commercial wealth, than by the English. Finally, as to Charles Edward himself, he was hardly a “charismatic and charming man” except in highlander folklore; in reality he led a dissipated life and died a drunk in 1788, in Italy, having done little to enhance his reputation as a dynastic leader since his crushing defeat at the hands of the English in 1745, when the whole Jacobite cause collapsed. He had been rejected by the Scots themselves, except for a narrow base of support in certain parts of the Highlands.

This brings me to the larger issue of what all of this means with respect to Ms. Warren’s main thesis about how “closet-builders,” i.e. respected historians, have missed these obvious connections between Scottish Freemason and Stuart religious and sexual tolerance on one hand and George Washington’s acceptance of an American monarchy that would promote these progressive notions on the other. She engages in what most professional historians regard as a cardinal methodological sin: taking a position and then cherry-picking only those details that appear to support that position, while at the same time ignoring or dismissing any counter-evidence in this case as old-fashioned and symptomatic of an institutionalized heteronormative bias. Granted, same-sex relations among our “founding fathers” may have existed, with the evidence still out on how amorous these were; but to connect this to a larger clandestine network of early American monarchists among the founders seems to conjure up conspiracy theories and secret cabals that are predicated mostly on negative evidence. There’s nothing to indicate that these events could not have occurred; what’s missing is the conclusive positive evidence that they did. Many of Ms. Warren’s conclusions rest upon passive voice “proofs,” such as her declaration that Charles II “ran the country so well that he would be seen as one of England’s best kings,” a statement that Hutton and most other scholars of the period would certainly challenge. Or when in reference to the supposed offer of an American crown to Bonnie Prince Charlie she states that the delegation “is said to have traveled to Italy and called on the Prince in 1782.”

Looking at her references, they are hardly the best and most reliable available. While she may try to deflect criticism of her use of Jacobite apologists Laurence Gardner and Prince Michael James Stewart of Albany with a simple, cavalier statement that they have been unfairly maligned by a skeptical academy, she then puts almost all of her chips on the reliability of one source, Sir Charles Petrie, the fascist sympathizer whose book on the Jacobite movement was originally published in 1932, over seventy years ago. Much has changed in the world of Jacobite scholarship since then that should not be dismissed out of hand as “closet-building.” During his lifetime, Petrie was known as a conservative political opportunist with a certain axe to grind; and while that doesn’t invalidate his written work, it obligates us to view it critically. But Ms. Warren has difficulty doing just that. Instead of finding corroboration in the secondary literature, or better yet, looking at the supposed primary-source evidence in the rather elusive and enigmatic “Stuart archives in Europe and the U.S. Senate archives,” she chooses to believe this one, rather questionable writer. At times, she even blurs the difference between primary and secondary sources, such as when she credits Petrie along with another unidentified source as the basis for her conclusion that Bonnie Prince Charlie wrote a letter to a number of Bostonians, some of whom may have been Freemasons.

While I have pointed out the most egregious of the article’s inaccuracies, there are others that I don’t have the space to elucidate. In the end, there is much in Ms. Warren’s article that is thought-provoking and possibly worth further investigation, but the framing of the topic and its historical articulation are so suspect that they render dubious her conclusions as they now stand. Her final statement that it is ironic that supporters of constitutional monarchy among our founders may have “helped to lay the groundwork for an enduring constitutional republic” proves a near non sequitur. What is perhaps as disconcerting is the fact that The Gay & Lesbian Review, a scholarly publication, let this one fall through the cracks. With there being such a need for good, credible gay and lesbian history to challenge the biases of past scholarship, it doesn’t help when our own scholarship is compromised and methodologically suspect.

Ben Lowe, associate professor of history, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton

 

Another Word for “Gerontophil”

To the Editor:

How nice to read nice things about gerontophobia. Many years ago I was a decrepit old man, a troll. Life after thirty was a dull gray area for gay men. But in the 1990’s I learned that I was good-looking and sexy. Again. Now I’m eighty, and men half my age (give or take a decade) are a pleasure to list as friends or bedmates.

Patrick O’Connor was hoping for an easy, friendly term for gerontophils. I took the “r” out of “geront,” added a “y,” and came up with “jaunty.” This is too obscure to catch on, but I like its cockiness. And I look forward to the terms other readers will suggest.

Richard George-Murray, New York City

 

Advice to a Writer

To the Editor:

Tom Pickurel’s essay “Fifty” in the January-February issue is a lingering delight. Library shelves are glutted with writing that is nowhere near as clever, creative, or insightful as this. The difference is that they have a subject other than themselves, and he is his only subject. As fascinating as his self-revelatory musings are, imagine what he could do with a real subject—something or somebody other than himself. When he ends with “I write, therefore I am,” here’s a most appreciative reader of his—over fifty—who wishes he’d shoot for a more substantive target for his unique genius with words.

Tom Parks, Midland, Texas

 

An Even Gayer Tea and Sympathy?

To The Editor,

I wonder if Christopher Capozzola, author of the Essay, “Fifty Years of Tea and Sympathy” (January-February, 2007), is aware that in author Robert Sherwood’s original version of Tea and Sympathy the ambivalent young man was befriended by a male faculty member at his prep school, reflecting a personal experience of his at Exeter. Sherwood had no success in getting his play produced until he agreed to change the sympathetic adult to a female. One also wonders if the play wouldn’t have been more helpful if it had stuck to its truthful theme. But, of course, that was the 1950’s and this is fifty years later and a time of much greater openness and toleration.

Jim Hinkle, Cummaquid, Mass.

 

Correction

The last issue’s table-of-contents page correctly identified it as the January-February 2007 issue but incorrectly designated the issue number as 13.7. We’re still bimonthly (six issues per year); the correct number was 14.1.

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