Letters to the Editor

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Respecting the Two-Spirit Zuni

To the Editor:

         I would like to respond to the article by Tomás Prower, “Between the Greeks and Stonewall,” in the November-December 2018 issue. One of the newest additions to San Francisco’s Rainbow Honor Walk is a three-foot-square bronze plaque honoring the Native- American We’wha (for whom I use the pronoun “they”). The inscription reads: “Respected Zuni lhamana or two spirit, accomplished potter, weaver and cultural ambassador of the Zuni nation.” The somewhat unexpected inclusion of We’wha in the article by Tomás Prower is not unwelcome and, in broad strokes, it captures the arc of this remarkable individual’s life. But, sadly, nearly all of its details are wrong.

         We’wha was indeed initiated into the men’s kachina society, but there were no comparable “female mysteries” at Zuni into which they might have been initiated. There’s no evidence that We’wha’s “latent feminine energy” was any more pronounced later in life than earlier. They were not the “featured subject” of Matilda Coxe Stevenson’s “literary studies.” Stevenson wrote ethnologies in which she mentioned We’wha occasionally, and these had not been published at the time We’wha visited Washington in 1886. They were not “hired” by the Smithsonian to make pottery, although Stevenson did purchase pieces for the museum. Stevenson did not make a special note of We’wha’s male sex in her diary when she learned of it—she did not keep a diary, or at least none that has survived. Finally, We’wha and other Zuni leaders were never accused of witchcraft. Instead, a young man was so accused and tried by Zuni leaders, and We’wha, who resisted the soldiers sent to arrest those leaders, was themself arrested.

         Details matter if for no other reason than respect for the work of LGBT scholars who have recovered stories such as that of We’wha at great effort, often without institutional support, knowing that their work would be held to a higher standard. My book, The Zuni Man-Woman, received a Lambda Literary Award and the Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association, and 25 years later remains the only scholarly source for We’wha’s career. And it is still in print. It’s strange that somehow Mr. Prower did not consult it, and I can only guess that he relied on the notoriously unreliable Internet for his faulty facts.

Will Roscoe, PhD, San Francisco

 

‘Gay Genocide’ Author Clarifies Thesis

To the Editor:

         In response to Dr. Douglas Cable’s letter (November-December 2018) concerning my piece, “Did the Nazis Enact a ‘Gay Genocide’” in the September-October issue, I don’t entirely disagree with him [regarding the severity of Hitler’s war on gays], but I still feel the debate should continue. He brings up a monograph that I have heard about but never read—The Gay Holocaust by Reimar Lenz, Rob Tielman, and Adriaan Venema. The question is: what data is this work based on? Most of my conclusions are based on the work of Rudiger Lautmann of Germany. He is considered the greatest scholar in the world on this subject.

         I am trying to get a book published that I co-authored with him and Erhard Vismar, which was privately printed in small numbers under my own publishing house the Spencer Press. It is called Sexual Politics in the Third Reich: The Persecution of the Homosexuals during the Holocaust. It’s the only book based on actual statistical data of homosexuals in the camps. He states (on page 91) that “the total number of concentration-camp deaths will never be known, and the fate of the homosexual inmates in particular remains unclear. … However [there was]a greater probability of death for the men of the pink triangle” as compared to, say, Jehovah’s Witnesses or political prisoners.

         What we need is more research to verify Dr. Cable’s conclusions, especially the killings of gays in countries outside of Germany and Austria. Until I see such data, I will keep to the conclusions outlined in my essay that the gay genocide was not a “true” or complete genocide. There are other terms we can use aside from the word “genocide”—war crimes, crimes against humanity, etc. Maybe I’m a quibbler, but I think we need more research. Still, I thank Dr. Cable for his insights and I hope we can correspond. My website is www.drjackporter.com.

         Fascism historically has always been an enormous danger to homosexuals as well as to Jews, the disabled, and leftists. Just look at what is happening under President Trump: Jews are being killed in their synagogue while they pray, gay men and women are in greater danger, and “leftists” (radicals, progressives) are vilified daily in the right-wing press. Will there be a roundup of gays and radicals? Could it lead to some form of genocide? Probably not, given our Constitution and our many safeguards, but we need to remain alert and learn from history.

         As I have said, there is so much more we need to know about the Shoah, and a good place to look is in our own U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., just minutes away from the White House.

Jack Nusan Porter, PhD, Cambridge, MA

 

Correction

In a review of The Children of Harvey Milk: How LGBTQ Politicians Changed the World, the reviewer stated that the book (published by Oxford Univ. Press) lacked an index. However, the reviewer read the book in page proofs; an index is included in the published volume.

 

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