Letters to the Editor

Published in: September-October 2006 issue.

Christian Colleges Are Voluntary

To the Editor:

The Guest Opinion by Stephanie Fairyington in the July-August 2006 issue hit home for me. As a graduate of two evangelical Christian institutions—Columbia International University and Reformed Theological Seminary—I’ve often shared her “mixed emotions” about the Soulforce-sponsored Equality Ride.

One consideration not touched upon in this otherwise insightful and on-target piece was the fact that such schools as Wheaton or my own two alma maters are voluntary. As such, to a large degree, they do have the right to set certain theological and behavioral standards for admittance and attendance. At CIU, sexual behavior of all types was minutely codified in the student handbook. And I’m sure that if I’d come out while at RTS, I would have been politely told, “We think you’d be happier elsewhere.”

But it was her analysis of the way in which hard-core Evangelicalism has affected queer politics (to its harm) that impressed me the most. We need more of this type of thinking and writing.

David R. Gillespie, Greenville, SC


Rubuttal to Champagne’s Defense…

To the Editor:

Regarding John Champagne’s response (G&LR, July–Aug. 2006) to my comments (May–June 2006) on his letter (Jan.–Feb. 2006) in the now hopefully not forgotten “Manly Love: Whitman, Ginsberg, Monette,” by Richard Tayson (Sept.–Oct. 2005):

First, I don’t know whether or not “Walt Whitman struggled with his self-identity as a gay man,” the emphasis here being on “struggled,” “identity,” and “gay.” I would only question the “post-modernist” tendency to theorize same-sex desire into an ahistorical ether of “queerness” that claims to be historicist while in effect deflating any claims of gay people to an essential erotic identity, however such identity might be culturally constructed over time. I defer to Whitman’s “We Two Boys Forever Clinging” as evidence of something “gay” then and there, and too beautiful and true to its time for what some might call “queer presentist deconstruction.”

Second, I don’t know who and what Professor Champagne means when he labels me as among “historians of his ilk” and my work as a “glib reading of the relationship between fascism and homoeroticism,” since I am a historian and author of a study that was well reviewed on both sides of the Atlantic concerning suicide in Italy from 1860 to 1915, which includes a discussion of Futurism and the homoerotic and misogynistic war-mongering antecedents to Fascism (Tired of Living: Suicide in Italy from National Unification to World War I, 1860-1915, Lang, 2002). The late George Mosse put this issue on the historiographical map decades ago. Sergio Luzzatto’s recent book, The Body of Il Duce: Mussolini’s Corpse and the Fortunes of Italy,  is an explicit discussion of the role in life and death of Mussolini’s body as an erotic and patriotic fascist icon.

Third, as one of the conveners of Queer Nation/LA in my Silver Lake backyard in August 1990 when ACT UP (in which I was active as just one of many worker bees, spokespersons, and civil disobedience protesters) was under pressure to “de-homosexualize” its message and methods, I was the individual who wrote and argued to put the phrase “queers of all sexual persuasions” into the local Queer Nation statement of purpose. In this sense, “historians of his ilk” is a tribute to the jail time I’ve spent in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York for Queer and AIDS causes. (See: “The Queer Nation Acts Up: Health Care, Politics, and Sexual Diversity in the County of Angels,” Society and Space, London: 1992; reprinted in G.B. Ingram editor, Queers in Space, Seattle Bay Press, 1997; reviewed in the G&LR, Winter 1998). And still, I am gay.

Fourth, since when has Saint Foucault, especially the questionable interpretations of his first volume of History of Sexuality, become the benchmark by which we evaluate our empirical research, or divide history before him (and his acolytes) and after? My Foucault of choice is his sublime “The Care of the Self.” That “power” both defines and suppresses minorities and other social categories was not discovered by “the French theorist,” even in his later works. I think a guy named Karl Marx, referring to Hegel, said something like: People make their own history, but under circumstances not of their own choosing.

Ty Geltmaker, Ph.D., Los Angeles

Cause of Ennis’ Death Not Ambiguous

To the Editor:

In her article “Real Cowboys, Real Rodeos” [July-August 2006 issue] and in reference to the film Brokeback Mountain, Patricia Nell Warren states: “In 1983, Jack’s story ends with a beating by gay-bashers at the age of 43.” (He was actually 39, but that is not the point I wish to make.)

Early on, the film introduces a technique to translate point of view into image. When a character looks at something, a shot shows his face, cuts to what he is looking at, then cuts back to his face. When Lureen describes over the phone how Jack died, the structure of the sequence uses the same technique: it starts with a shot of Ennis listening, cuts to the image of Jack being attacked with a tire iron, then goes back to a shot of Ennis, so distraught by this mental image that he has stopped listening to Lureen.

This is expressed quite explicitly in Annie Proulx’s story. Ennis is traumatized for life when his father takes him to see the mutilated body of Earl, the neighbor who shared his ranch with another man: “I was nine years old and they found Earl dead in an irrigation ditch. They’d took a tire iron to him, spurred him up, drug him around by his dick until it pulled off.” This experience has left a deep mark on Ennis. When Jack proposes that they get a ranch together, Ennis responds: “You and me can’t hardly be decent together if what happened back there grabs on us like that. We do that in the wrong place we’ll be dead. There is no reins on this one: It scares the piss out a me.”

Later, as Lureen tells him the mode of Jack’s death, “No, he thought, they got him with the tire iron.” In his mind, Ennis fulfills his biggest fear: he envisions Jack killed in the same manner as neighbor Earl. This thought—a mental construct and not an actual fact—gets driven home later in the story. After Jack’s father tells Ennis that Jack intended to come up with another man to build a place and help with the ranch, Proulx adds, “So now he knew it had been the tire iron.” Ennis’ mental image is translated into Larry McMurtry’s and Diana Ossana’s screenplay by the use of split screen. The film, however—one only needs to pay attention to the montage—connects the image to Ennis by means of the point-of-view technique described above.

It is clear that the fear of the tire iron represents the fear of the consequences of violent homophobia, a fear that precludes Ennis from sharing his life with Jack. Literally to interpret as fact the images of Jack’s death that Ennis conjures in his mind is not only an erroneous cinematic reading, but a subversion of the most potent motif of both story and film: the tragedy of Ennis’ unfulfilled love, brought about by the life-threatening homophobia so prevalent in his rural surroundings.

Antonio R. Gamboa, Santa Cruz, CA