On the Passing of Donald Boisvert
To the Editor:
It was with some sadness that I read of the passing of the impressive Canadian scholar of religion and sexuality, Donald Boisvert, in your Sept.-Oct. issue. I was inspired to write by this reminder of his generous and compassionate spirit.
I first encountered Dr. Boisvert at a 2008 meeting of the Gay Men’s Issues in Religion Group of the American Academy of Religion, held in Chicago. I was an unknown Australian scholar presenting a panel discussing the often-ignored and almost entirely disrespected religious life of Christopher Isherwood, and I was quietly pleased to hear mutterings of disgust that this notorious “homosexualist” should be featured in such a respectable gathering.
In fact, my fellow panelists were well-informed of the importance of Isherwood’s long-term adherence to the liberating effects of the non-dualistic philosophy of Advaita Vedanta as taught to him by his guru, Swami Prabhavanada, who presided over a temple in Hollywood, California, a teaching that did not require the writer to repudiate his sexuality.
When my book on Isherwood was published (Mr Isherwood Changes Trains, 2010), Donald reviewed it for the journal Life Writing (2012). Those who knew him better than I will not be surprised that, while taking me to task over some issues, Donald generously assessed the work as “remarkably incisive and absolutely necessary” because it “placed gay men at the very heart of the religious journey.” This was certainly not the standard view of gay men’s interest in religion at the time, and, as an unknown scholar toiling away in obscurity, Donald’s assess-ment proved very encouraging for me. I remain deeply grateful for his respect and encouragement.
Victor E. Marsh
University of Queensland, Australia
In Defense of Effeminism
To the Editor:
In “The Unknown Andrea Dworkin” (G&LR, Sept.-Oct. 2019), Martin Duberman wrote about the effeminist movement, of which I was a cofounder and theorist.
Duberman has referred elsewhere to writing from the effeminists, a group of antisexist men who were originally members of Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in New York, which was founded immediately after the Stonewall Riots of 1969. In an essay titled “Homosexual Literature” (The New York Times Book Review, 1972), Duberman referenced Kenneth Pitchford and my writing, announcing that “fertile if fragmentary material is beginning to emerge” from the gay movement. Many years later, in Has the Gay Movement Failed? (2018), he wrote: “The outer limit of GLF’s willingness to commit to radical feminism was reached when three members—Steven Dansky, John Knoebel, and Kenneth Pitchford (the husband of radical feminist Robin Morgan)—formed the ‘Revolutionary Effeminists’ and began publishing the Double-F journal, where they argued that gay men should virtually place themselves in the service of women, taking on their traditional household tasks, including the raising of children, in order to foster women’s rise to power.”
Effeminists advocated doing childcare to free women from that burden. However, in the “Effeminist Manifesto” we defined child-raising “as a duty, a right, and a privilege,” and we believed it was in our self-interest to be involved in the lives of children, for so long prohibited to gay men. It was prophetic, because central to the effeminist vision was childrearing and gay fatherhood. In the intervening years, same-sex couples have fought, often successfully, for the right to adopt and raise children.
In The G&LR piece, Duberman wrote: “In Andrea’s view, which complemented and strengthened my own, Pitchford tended to see ‘female’ traits as inherent and fixed, and she deplored his call for homosexual men to ‘copy’ those traits and to subordinate their own needs in the name of bringing Womanhood to power.” There’s no way to verify what Dworkin thought about Pitchford or effeminism. To my knowledge she never wrote a word about it. Knoebel wrote: “We never defined women or female traits—that would’ve been presumptuous. Women can define themselves. We opposed male supremacy and wanted to follow women’s leadership, believing we could be class traitors to our gender” (e-mail to author, 09/04/19). Without any reference to source material, it’s impossible to unscramble the meaning of Duberman’s assertion about effeminists advocating “copying women’s traits.” Copy how? What traits?
He continues with the following statement: “Andrea encouraged me to see the Pitchford model as static—and tyrannical, a confinement of women to a limited set of biologically induced traits, and of homosexual males to a no less traditional ‘effeminacy’ historically linked to a genetic deficiency.” In the “Effeminist Manifesto,” we supported women’s leadership, not some so-called confinement to biologic traits. The attribution is inaccurate.
Duberman dismissively wrote in Has the Gay Movement Failed?: “[T]he Effeminists succeeded in enlisting almost no one other than themselves.” In fact, while effeminism didn’t become a movement, it influenced thinking across this country and had a global reach to Australia, England, and France.
Many of effeminist convictions have evolved, but some remain intractable—principally, the central premise that patriarchy is the root cause of all human suffering. The essential irony of effeminism is its tenacious relevancy for nearly fifty years with work continuously anthologized, referenced, and reprinted—from Donn Teal’s The Gay Militants (1971) to Jason Baumann’s The Stonewall Reader (2019).
Steven F. Dansky, Las Vegas
“Christian” Not the Same as “Right-wing”
To the Editor:
John Gallagher, in a Guest Opinion, July-August 2019, makes his case that falling church membership and attendance in the U.S. could affect LGBT rights. He is partly correct, but for the wrong reasons. His all-too-common dismissal of organized religion misses some important points.
True, mainline Protestant denominations have seen major declines in membership. Much of this is due to the various denominations’ support of LGBT rights and issues. Also true: generations of Americans are now completely “un-churched.” They believe that religion has nothing to offer them. Many conservative Christians have fled their churches due to the perceived liberal swerve of their churches. While not total bastions of LGBT acceptance by a long shot, many Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, and a majority of Jews support and lobby for LGBT acceptance. Many have been doing so for years. There are still well over twenty million of such Americans. Granted, this number pales compared to the membership of notorious anti-LGBT denominations like Catholics and Mormons, but still they are a force to be reckoned with. Gay presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg professes to be an active Episcopalian.
“Christian” and “right-wing” are not synonymous. Neither are faith and religion. People of faith of many denominations have been and continue to be strong LGBT allies. Please don’t write them off.
Michael Carson, Palm Springs, CA
Opposition to “Queer” Seconded
To the Editor:
I could not agree more with Tom Steele’s letter to the Editor (“Don’t Call Me Queer”) in the September-October issue. The increasingly widespread use of this term as a catch-all for our community is deplorable and must be resisted. The term “queer” is an insult and it is deeply offensive. It is a judgment. It is the language of the oppressor. Any attempt to embrace or “reclaim” this term is wrong-headed and destined to fail. Would anyone in their right mind think of defending the use of terms like “Spic art,” “Kike art,” or the like? Using “queer” as a descriptor amounts to the same thing, and is, quite simply, indefensible.
My guess is that people are resorting to its use because it’s a lot easier to say “queer” than to use “lgbtqia” or similar abbreviations. So, how about adopting a more positive term such as “Rainbow” to define our community instead? I don’t think anyone would mind being referred to as being a member of the “rainbow community.” But please don’t call me “queer”!
Dale Boyer, Chicago
A few readers noticed that the Hebrew blessing at the end of an obituary for Donald Boisvert in the September-October issue was backwards. Author Maurice Levenbach is not to blame; for some unknown reason Quark Express reversed the letters, which should have gone as follows:
(May his memory be blessed.)