Times Passed with the Late Allan Bérubé
To the Editor:
John D’Emilio’s tribute to Allan Bérubé in the May-June 2008 issue brings to mind a lasting memory of Allan’s weekend visits to my home in Davis, California, to be with his lover Dr. Brian Keith, a post-doctoral student at UC–Davis. This was during the time that Allan was compiling his notes for the book Coming Out Under Fire. Allan and Brian had met at a Sunday Beer Bust at the Ambush on Harrison in San Francisco, a meeting that led to a full-blown relationship almost overnight.
Allan would spread his notes out all over the dining table for the whole weekend while Brian and he pored over them, even reading some of the more touching letters aloud. Allan was very apprehensive about his ability to write the book, but brimming with so much enthusiasm for the project in any case. At least two of his interviews with veterans took place in my living room, and, judging by the wet cheeks of the interviewees at their conclusion, I knew that this was a historically significant endeavor he was undertaking and simply encouraged him. I was busy with my own activist challenges in Davis and Sacramento; in fact, Allan and I share a distinction of sorts by being listed in the “Advocate 400 List” published on the occasion of the magazine’s 400th issue (August 7, 1984), Allan for founding Gay Fathers Coalition International and I for publicly declaring that we would vote the redneck Sacramento City sheriff out of office for calling us “misfits” and “queers” in print. And we did.
My photo album from that era has several snapshots with Allan and Brian, to whom the book is posthumously dedicated.
Norv Giles, San Diego
No Explanations Necessary!
To the Editor:
A breath of fresh air hit me in the face when I picked up the Jan.–Feb. 2008 issue and read Art Cohen’s guest editorial, “Whether It’s a Choice or Not Is Irrelevant.” I was so relieved to know that there was another “queer heretic” like me out there who sees the question of causality as such, irrelevant. It just doesn’t matter.
As a person of progressive Christian faith, I see same-gender attraction and same-gender, mutually consented-to sex as simply another aspect, another facet if you will, of the beautiful gem that is humanity. We don’t have to justify it, but rather, simply accept it and celebrate it for what it is.
When it comes to public policy, if we truly remove the religious notions of sin, etc., from the discussion (as we rightly should), then the only question we need to concern ourselves with is this: should mutually consented to sexual behavior be used as a criteria in assigning or withholding the rights of citizenship and its responsibilities and privileges?
Besides, we’ve played victim (I can’t help it, I was born this way) far too long. “Treat us as equals,” we should say, “because we are. We are life. We are human. We are fellow citizens of the republic. Period.” Thanks, Mr. Cohen, for your insightful—and in my opinion, dead on—column. And thanks to GLR for adding it to the discussion.
David R. Gillespie, Greenville, SC
Do Homos Have a Role in Evolution?
To the Editor:
I would like to respond to the letter published in the March-April 2008 issue, written by David Williams, where he argues that homosexuality is part of the natural evolutionary order as a means of population control. He then opines the following: “Some gay and lesbian activists may read this and feel sickened that this concept reduces our entire lives to a purely biological function.”
First of all, much as I appreciate Mr. Williams’ opinion, I for one am not “sickened” by it but do feel that his conclusion is incorrect, though, to be sure, his viewpoint represents a commonly heard explanation of homosexuality. But I do not think the evolutionary theory holds up on logical grounds. While I’m not an expert in evolutionary theory, it is my understanding that the predominant consensus is that population is controlled largely by food supplies, not by procreative habits. If there were a population control mechanism in sexual behavior, there ought to be a diminished sex drive in heterosexual animals when their population has reached a critical point; but no such mechanism exists so far as I know.
Furthermore, if sexual orientation served as a means of population control, it would exhibit variance on a local level. For example, if a given local deer population were stretching the limits of its available resources, then homosexuality ought to kick in dynamically within that area to effect some kind of short-term compensation. At the same time, a different local deer population might not experience this shift. Such an effect would be contradictory to current interpretations of research suggesting that sexual orientation is an inborn trait.
I can see why it is tempting to take this viewpoint, but if we look at two means of population controls—food scarcity leading to starvation and habitat relocation versus homosexual sexual habits—it’s easy to see that the former is capable of providing the dynamic variations that can be effective in curbing excess populations, while the latter would be too little, too late. Under the second scenario, there ought to have been virtually no evidence of human homosexuality in times prior to the 19th or 20th century, which was really the first period in which overpopulation was even an issue. But clearly this was not the case.
I believe that there is no evidence to support this claim. I believe it is a short-sighted view and constitutes a disinformative factoid which is unfortunately part of the popular “explanation” for our existence. A better view is simpler: that we exist as simply part of the biological need for variation in the species, which evolutionary theory holds as essential.
As stated earlier, I am not an expert on evolution, so if someone can provide convincing evidence to challenge my view, please bring it on!
Tom Townsend, Indianapolis
Don’t Forget Who Else Played the Baths!
To the Editor:
In his article on Bette Midler’s appearances at the Continental Baths in the early 1970’s (May-June 2008 issue), Jeff Auer neglected to mention that Barry Manilow played the piano for Bette at the Baths and worked with her on her first two albums.
What struck me most about Jeff Auer’s Midler article was the fact that Bette had made it into the issue at all. Suddenly you are Entertainment Weekly. Well, that’s okay. She is a gay icon and pop culture is legitimate turf for an intellectual look-see. But not to mention her connection to Barry Manilow had me thinking that you folks didn’t do your homework. Both have repeatedly recalled their working together in interviews, and I’ve seen photos documenting their joint appearances at the Continental. In the last few years I think they even reunited for a performance somewhere. I leave it to you to satisfy your own curiosity about this by exploring it on your own.
Michael Goldstein, New York City
Since you directly address the workmanship of the editor and staff of the Review, let me respond briefly.
Fair enough, the article’s failure to mention Barry Manilow was an error of omission that neither I nor four copy editors noticed. Manilow was indeed a pianist at the Baths who accompanied Bette Midler and other entertainers there; what’s more, he continued to work with Midler on the singer’s first two albums. I can only assume that our collective failure to remember this fact is attributable to one thing: Manilow has never been particularly open about his sexual orientation, and, like Bette Midler herself, has tended to downplay his earlier association with New York’s demimonde. It is only by assuming that Manilow was or is gay that our failure to mention his connection to the Baths becomes noteworthy.
Second, for what it’s worth, I really don’t think a serious treatment of an important moment in gay popular history makes us Entertainment Weekly. I for one find popular culture endlessly fascinating and worthy of study.
To the Editor:
Your little item about Bulgaria’s “race to the bottom” of the homophobic nation barrel missed a certain irony in it. The etymology of the words buggery and Bulgaria. They derive thus: bugger from the Middle English bougre or heretic; from the Old French boulgre; from the Medieval Latin Bulgaris, i.e. Bulgar or Bulgarian! So you see what those poor homophobes are up against: a near millennium of etymology that links them with this act they find so alien. And yet, it bears their name. God does have a sense of irony, let it not be forgotten.
Christian Draz, Boston