‘Queer’ Subtext Is Not to Be Found
To the Editor:
In “Dark Victory as Metaphor of the Closet” (July-Aug. issue), Nathan Smith opines that Bette Davis’ film gives us an ex- tended metaphor, some would say a conceit, for the rigors and pains of gay metamorpho- sis, a notion that he clings to regardless of anything like logical sense. He relies on repetition of this thesis in an effort to con- vince us of the position he takes while standing on sinking sand.
Of course we get his inference to “decon- structed post-structural(ism),” a genre of criticism that is on its deathbed and can lend Mr. Smith only a skeletal hand as he hopes to compare Judith Traherne’s real illness as portrayed in the film to the “illness” of ho- mosexuality. For starters, who among us is not a little offended at the suggestion, metaphorical or otherwise, that homosexu- ality might be an illness after all? But even if we take his assertions about dark Victory as plausible for a moment, are we then to take all of Bette Davis’ films as similar metaphors for various phases of gay life to determine why gay men happen to like her work? He seems to suggest as much in his beginning paragraphs, paving the way for embedded meanings in such characters as, say, Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes.
Dark Victory portrays a young, head- strong woman who is felled by a brain dis- ease and who, in the course of her realization of impending death, comes to a new understanding of herself, finds true love, and learns the value of every moment of life left to her. It’s a simple lesson, one that all of us, gay or straight, can appreciate. While we empathize with the character and share her pain and finally her resignation to her fate, that’s all we have to do. It may sound simplistic as a “message” for the movie, but this does not justify inventing a subtext—that the movie is a painful gay coming out story—which simply isn’t there. We can admire Bette Davis’ artistry on its own merits without worrying about embed- ded meanings where none can be found.
Robert Heylmun, San diego
The Progeny of Same-Sex Love
To the Editor:
I would like to add a point to David Thames’ interesting article [July-Aug. 2013 issue] about contemporary “philosophers” whose take on love is exclusively hetero- sexual. Thames notes that Mark Vernon, in a book titled Love, identified three stages of love: infant love, romantic love, and parental love. The third stage happens when a third party enters the relationship. For het- erosexual people, that third participant is their child.
I think that same stage pattern fits gay people. For us, the third participant is the relationship itself. This is an idea I learned from David McWhirter and Drew Mattison (The Male Couple, 1985). Because soci- ety—and philosophers of love—do not no- tice and we are not raised to expect successful gay love, our relationships take on a life of their own. We’re together not just because everybody gets married, but because we choose to be and consider it a success in our lives. So, according to McWhirter and Mattison, we cherish and care for the relationship deliberately.
In August 1985, I had a op-ed piece in The Advocate called “Gay Relationship Rings: Symbols to Help Cement Our Com- mitment.” I wrote about the “puzzle ring” or “trinity ring” of three intertwined gold bands (Cartier makes a version) as appropri- ate symbols for gay and lesbian couples. We don’t “become one flesh,” symbolized by the single band, as the heterosexual model calls for; we’re not each other’s missing half. We are complete individuals who join together as equals to create a third thing— which is the relationship itself. My partner Kip and I have been wearing trinity rings now for nearly thirty years since we discov- ered them on a honeymoon for our first an- niversary in France, where gay men were wearing them as relationship rings.
What the “philosophers” miss is that same-sex love is chosen and deliberate. We didn’t just get here by being “normal.” Rather than splashing on the surface of love, to use Thames’s image for the writers’ dismissal of anything other than parental love, gay people, I think, demonstrate the depths and maturity of interpersonal love. We demonstrate that human beings can live full, participating, contributing lives to- gether, as equals, without having to repro- duce. This is an evolutionary advance.
Toby Johnson, Austin, TX
Author, Gay Perspective and Gay Spirituality
Bradley Manning Did Us All a Service
To the Editor:
I’m hopeful that the Guest Opinion by James Patterson in the July-August 2013 issue, which was critical of Bradley Man- ning, is not the majority opinion of the gay community. yes, Bradley Manning deserves our support. The claim that Manning re- leased any information that “harmed” our troops cannot be simply stated without detailed substantiation. Clearly, Manning was acting on his conscience, at personal risk, by whistle blowing as well as by his own service.
In mainstream media, there is entirely too much military glorification that when car- ried to such excess can become a hallmark worthy of a fascist state. The attempted guilt-trip and presumption of automatic “hero” status for our troops becomes a ma- nipulative propaganda ploy. Our troops should not be given carte blanche. It is time that all military personnel should assume some responsibility for the motives, poli- tics, conduct and consequences of the some- times-dubious military engagements to which they lend their support. That is ex- actly what Manning has done.
Tom Keske, randolph, Mass.
Lorenz Hart’s Steamiest Lyrics
To the Editor:
I enjoyed Andrew Holleran’s piece on lyricist Lorenz Hart in the current issue [July-Aug. 2013]. Perhaps Hart’s most per- sonally revealing—and least known—song was a number called “My Friend the Night,” written on November 27, 1933. It was registered for copyright as an unpub- lished work by MGM on December 15, 1933, but it was never used in any movie.
Noisy parties of drunken buffoons,
Jazz bands screeching detestable tunes,
Odor of cigarettes, stench of cigars,
That’s why I want to walk under the stars!
Hollow laughter and scrambled affairs,
Lifted eyebrows and gossip and stares,
Parlors and people are shackles and bars.
That’ s why I want to walk under the stars!
My friend the night Looks down on me
With gentle eyes of the stars, My friend the night.
His touch is light on me;
His fingers are the summer breeze in its flight,
My friend the night.
When he lifts his voice in boisterous commotion,
He blows a gale of laughter in my ear.
He slaps me with a surging of the ocean
As a symbol of his devotion!
My friend the night
Looks down on me
And watches while I sleep.
He holds me tight,
My friend the night.
Michael Ehrhardt, Roseland, NJ