Censoring Sexuality: Poulenc’s Priest
by Paul Bailey
Seagull Books. 147 pages, $16.95
THE HEART of this little book is a 72-page essay, Poulenc’s Priest, by the British novelist Paul Bailey. The title stems from an anecdote about the gay composer Francis Poulenc that appeals to Bailey’s “sense of what is right and wrong”: “[Poulenc] confessed to his priest that he’d had a sexual encounter in a park with a stranger, and the priest—exasperated—stopped him short with the admonition: ‘Stop wasting our time. If you have to confess, plead guilty to a real sin like pride or cruelty. Now go away.’” Bailey’s essay ranges far and wide, but for the most part deals with situations in which gay men have been forced to conceal—or have chosen not to conceal—their sexual identity. It provides examples of intolerance and sometimes, as in the Poulenc’s priest anecdote, unexpected acceptance.