Fall Harvest: ‘Frenemies’

Published in: September-October 2019 issue.


BEFORE GOING with “Frenemies,” that neologism connoting a friendly respect for one’s enemy, or perhaps a competitive rivalry with a friend, I considered various terms to embrace the menagerie of human subjects in this biographical issue. What they seem to have in common is an ambiguous or contradictory relationship to the LGBT community or gay identity, perhaps an unwillingness to acknowledge their sexuality or even hostility to this community’s goals.

         The most clear-cut example of a frenemy may be Andrea Dworkin, who’s discussed here in a personal reflection by Martin Duberman. Dworkin is remembered today as the lesbian feminist who, along with Catharine McKinnon, launched a highly vocal campaign against pornography in the 1980s that was seen as a war on men, including gay men, who came in for special scolding. Duberman makes the case that in fact Dwor-kin’s activism starting in the 1960s was all about liberating sexuality and expanding human potential.

         There’s a fascinating piece by Yukio Mishima and a dialog between him and Tennessee Williams, published here in English for the first time—two men who might themselves be seen as “frenemies.” They were friends who greatly admired each other’s work, but Mishima’s short essay from 1966 contains some jabs at Williams that suggest a healthy rivalry. Individually, both writers were somewhat conflicted about being gay, Mishima in particular, for whom it appears to have been at odds with his Japanese warrior persona. Williams was as out as could be expected in the postwar era and even created some gay characters, such as the suicidal Skipper in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and the cannibalized Sebastian in Suddenly, Last Summer—not very inspiring as gay role models.

         The surprise entry may be Ayn Rand, who was not a lesbian or bisexual, was publicly hostile to homosexuality, and is associated today with the anti-gay wing of American politics. And yet, buried in the subplots of her novels, especially The Fountainhead, are intimations of same-sex attraction and affiliation. Denise Noe argues that Howard Roark and Gail Wynand reveal in words and gestures that, while officially rivals in love with Dominique, they’re really in love with one another.

         It seems only fitting that artist Edward Gorey is a mystery wrapped in a conundrum. It’s clear that Gorey’s sexual attraction was to men, but to what extent he acted on his “crushes” is unknown. His early work contains some fairly explicit scenes of homoerotic play. Felice Picano argues that his drawings and captions are full of innuendo and lascivious possibilities. Others have described his work using the ever elusive term “camp,” that world of kinky situations and ironic twists—surely not a “straight” world in any sense of the term.