Early Fall: ‘The Arc of Resistance’

Published in: September-October 2020 issue.


THIS WOULD normally be our quadrennial Election Issue, which in the past (starting in 1996) always led with an essay by former Congressman Barney Frank. Producing this issue was always a challenge, as it goes to press in late July, and a lot can happen in three-plus months even in an ordinary year.

            And then there’s 2020. If the phenomenon of Donald Trump as president of these United States, and the prospect of four more years, weren’t already surreal enough, the Covid-19 pandemic arrived in March, the economy tanked, social unrest erupted after the police killing of George Floyd, and nothing seemed the same. While it would be impossible to do justice to this “moment,” this issue considers some implications of these events for LGBT culture and community. The heading “Arc of Resistance” refers to the way in which these writers, when coming to terms with the current whirl of events, instinctively look to the past, to early LGBT history, for instruction and insight.

            For example, Michael Musto, in laying out how Covid could impact popular culture, cannot resist turning to the zany days of LGBT togetherness with movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Pink Flamingos as the backdrop for an uninhibited nightlife, rallies, drag shows, theater… In a similar vein, Bruce Skeaff considers the possible impact of Covid on the hookup and dating scene (Grindr, et al.), but to understand that we need to go back to the early days of hookup culture and track how technology has shaped its evolution.

            Two pieces place current developments into the context of the bad old decades before Stonewall. The author of a new book titled The Deviant’s War, Eric Cervini, is interviewed about his research into the life and times of Frank Kameny, who was fired from his job for being gay during the McCarthy era and became the leading gay rights activist of the 1960s. Andrew Holleran also revisits McCarthyism and focuses on a book by David K. Johnson titled The Lavender Scare, which documents the systematic destruction of homosexuals’ lives and livelihoods—with startling parallels to the present. The strategy of rendering gay people unemployable in that era has special resonance in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling that outlawed employment discrimination based in sexual orientation—an arc of history that found its pot of gold.

            A different arc is traced by Steven F. Dansky, who, like many gay men of his generation, sees parallels between Covid today and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, including both the shameful politics and the human experience: the isolation, the grief, the fear of infection. One artist who died of AIDS in that era was glam rock singer-performer Klaus Nomi, whose other-worldly music deserves a second listen, urges Chelsea Spear, in the context of today’s fearful asymmetries. At the least, we might find a nice diversion from our current circumstances.