Do Closeted Writers Deserve Praise?
To the Editor:
Daniel A. Burr’s review of the book on E. M. Forster (A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster, by Wendy Moffett) in the last issue [Nov.-Dec. 2010], got me thinking once again about how relevant these writers from the UK are to Americans, and especially how much they contributed, if anything, to the movement to gain equal rights for homosexual Americans.
My answer before and after is: not much. I would not expect young people to spend much time studying the lives of such writers. So why are a few literary types constantly writing about them, for example, in your magazine? Why is it that closeted people in an elitist society in years gone by are pushed on us as people we should honor, respect, or follow? Are homosexuals still so guilt-ridden that they will use any “famous” person as proof that they have value as people?
Specifically, do they not see a problem with such men as Forster (or Evelyn Waugh, Somerset Maugham, et al.)? It is worth pointing out that Mr. Burr saw fit to open his review with the question, “Was E. M. Forster a coward?” The fact that Forster wrote Maurice in 1914 but it wasn’t published until 1971, a year after his death, is one of the reasons for asking this question. The fact that he worked out a whole philosophy to justify his avoidance of political questions in favor of traveling and making friends is another data point. “He was never openly gay,” Burr states flatly. And yet he concludes and wants us to believe that Forster
lived a “brave life,” after all. On what basis?
Billy Glover, Bossier City, Louisiana
Let me use this as an opportunity to justify the inclusion of writers such as those you mentioned while illuminating my own thinking on this matter.
I understand your concern and have wrestled to some extent with the question of how much attention should be paid to writers and artists who were unlucky enough to live at a time when it wasn’t possible to be openly gay—to be “gay” at all in the contemporary sense. Recent issues of the GLR have explored the lives and works not only of Forster, Waugh, and Maugham, but also of Henry James, Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, and several writers of lesser renown, all of them more-or-less deeply closeted but all undoubtedly homosexual in their essential orientation.
Such individuals arguably did not contribute to the liberation of GLBT people and may even have harmed the cause by accommodating themselves to the oppression. Still, this does not suggest to me that we should ignore these figures or, for that matter, that we should berate them for being closeted either in their private lives or in their literary undertakings. The fact that Forster wrote an explicitly “gay” novel and chose to suppress it until after his death speaks volumes about what it was like to be homosexual in 1910’s England—as does the novel Maurice itself. Over in Germany, Thomas Mann did much the same with Death in Venice, while Proust’s extreme coyness on the subject reminds us that even France was a deeply homophobic place in the early 20th century.
We go back to these figures, I think, not because it bolsters our collective ego to know that there were great gay writers in the past—though perhaps there’s a bit of that—but because they provide a sense of continuity with a struggle that we know did not begin with Stonewall in 1969 or with the appearance of the first gay organizations in the 50’s. Figures of the early 20th century are especialy interesting—and slightly tragic—because they lived just before it was possible to be openly gay, a fact to which they adapted in various, often disappointing, ways.
Finally, it is just possible that this fact of life influenced their work in ways that require our attention if we want to understand these great writers (and other artists) on a deeper level.
Richard Schneider Jr., Boston
Churches Helping Substance Abusers
To the Editor:
You are correct in your introduction to the “religion issue” [Nov.-Dec. 2010], as are Donald Boisvert and Pastor Chellew-Hodge, to observe that there’s greater acceptance of GLBT people by many mainstream denominations. These include, among others, the Unitarian Universalist Church, the Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ. I feel happily at home and am active in a local UCC church that has been open and affirming for over fifteen years.
But we are still far from where we should be. It is obvious that homophobia still abounds in many religious groups. These include, among others, Mormon, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, and a multitude of conservative Protestant churches. As a result, many of us have parted company with these churches, synagogues, and mosques of our childhood, as well we should.
The point of this letter is to make note of an important place where many GLBT persons have subsequently found a spiritual home. I am referring to the twelve-step recovery fellowships that abound and in which many GLBT persons are members: Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, Alanon, and
Much could be written about substance abuse, including alcohol abuse, within the GLBT community. Many of us turned to a variety of drugs in part because of rejection by our society, our own internalized homophobia, low self-esteem, guilt, and fear. When we wanted to get better, we discovered that we were generally accepted in these twelve-step groups.
It is sometimes said that substance abuse is a spiritual disease that requires a spiritual solution. All twelve-step groups deal with such spiritual matters as honesty, open-mindedness, self-acceptance, freedom, and being of service to others. They promote a practical belief in some form of higher power without defining its nature as such (“God as we understood him”). No one is forced or even subtly encouraged to have any sort of doctrinaire theological beliefs.
GLBT persons with substance-abuse problems have often found spiritual ful-fillment within twelve-step communities after they were rejected by religious
ones that harbored prejudice and thus have failed us as standard-bearers of spiritual truths.
Bob Drechsler, Corona, CA
Equality Bill Not a Realistic Goal
To the Editor:
I was surprised to see a guest opinion piece of Todd Fernandez on the American Equality Bill in the September-October 2010 issue, and more surprised after I had read it.
I knew Todd Fernandez in the 1980’s, when he was active in the Boston gay community as a Log Cabin Republican. We parted ways after a conversation about the need for affordable housing, when he said, “I don’t want any of my tax money spent to pay someone else’s rent!” For me, he fell off the edge of the flat earth that day.
I find it incredible that, late in 2010, he was writing with enthusiasm about the American Equality Bill, giving a timetable for its passage: file the fill In November, hold Congressional hearings by May 2011, and attend the bill signing at the Lincoln Memorial by June 2012. Hadn’t anyone told him about the upcoming election in November 2010, which promised a Republican takeover of the House?
Well, the Republicans did take over the House, and now the American Equality Bill has zero chance of passage. I don’t know if Todd is still a Republican, but I do know that his crystal ball was clouded when he predicted passage of this legislation. The legislation he supports is worthy, but I know that, as long as the Republicans have control of the House, we won’t see even the beginning of it.
Barbara R. Hoffman, Boston
Letter Writer Draws Two Reactions
To the Editor:
I don’t know if a letter in response to a letter is proper magazine etiquette, but I had to let you know how much I enjoyed Stephen Temperley’s missive in the last issue [Nov.-Dec. 2010], titled “Why Must As You Like It Be Gayed up?” Knowledge leavened with wit is a rare commodity! Can’t you recruit, shanghai, or bribe him into doing some theatre reviewing for you?
Ryan Tracy’s reply made it clear that Temperley’s description of his writing as “cramped and humorless” was right on the money!
F. Valentine Hooven III, Palm Springs, CA
To the Editor:
I enjoy GLR for its different take on gay issues than that found in the glossies, but you definitely have more effete snots per square inch than any other publication! In the last issue, the long piece by Stephen Temperley is a prime example. What an arrogant, condescending blowhard! He beats down Ryan Tracy’s opinions on a production of As You Like It but actually admits that “I didn’t see the production in Brooklyn.” Worse, he seems almost proud of what should be an embarrassing admission.
Stan Godin, Honolulu
Windham Obit Corrected
To the Editor:
With reference to your obituary of Donald Windham (Jan.-Feb. 2011 issue), I would like to point out a small error in the notice. Sandy Campbell was indeed the publisher of several of Donald Windham’s books, but he was not the owner of the Stamperia Valdonega in Verona. At the time Tanaquil was published in 1972, the Stamperia Valdonega was a prestigious printing company owned by Martino Mardersteig. This press also printed Elie Nadelman, by Lincoln Kirstein, for The Eakins Press in 1973.
Richard-Gabriel Rummonds, Port Townsend, WA