Mythical Sources of the Radical Faeries
To the Editor:
Did Harry Hay romanticize and appropriate Native culture and spirituality when he helped start the Radical Faeries, as suggested in Vernon Rosario’s review of Gregory Smithers’ Reclaiming Two-Spirits in the July-August 2022 issue?
He certainly did consider nonbinary Native Americans remarkable examples of how queer people could make valuable contributions to their communities when they were allowed to live authentic lives. A vibrant movement of Two Spirit people today clearly agrees with him. But in my years of observation, I never heard Harry propose that the Faeries adopt a practice because it was “Native American.” I’ve reached out to other old Faeries who were present at the first gatherings, and they agree. Harry looked to Western traditions and folklore—to faeries, in fact, who were pre-Christian figures in Old Europe. His exhortation (paraphrasing Monique Wittig) was that we must remember who we were before patriarchy—and if we can’t remember, then invent.
One other thing: Rosario states that the Two Spirit We’wha “convinced” Grover Cleveland to replace a Mexican Indian agent at Zuni. There was never a Mexican Indian agent at Zuni, and We’wha only spoke rudimentary English. According to a newspaper account, “Her [sic]conversation with the President was mainly in monosyllables, but Mrs. Stevenson [We’wha’s host] and the President had quite an interesting talk.” One of the best antidotes to the romanticization, I should think, is attention to detail.
Will Roscoe, San Francisco
When Sailors Were Polled
To the Editor:
Browsing through the July-August issue of The G&LR on “The Lure of the Sea” with its range of engaging articles, I was drawn to my copy of a work by Steven Zeeland, Sailors and Sexual Identity. Working on the book in the 1990s, the author met with over 200 sailors and Marines, mostly in southern California around the naval bases in San Diego. Conducting taped interviews with thirty, he winnowed them down to thirteen who spoke candidly about their sexual experiences.
Not surprisingly, Zeeland found that men from both branches—mostly young recruits—were “sexually adventuresome, making it hard to distinguish between straights and gays.” Profiles of these men include mischievous distinctions. Marines were characterized as tougher, more compactly built, often “bottoms,” with sharper haircuts, while sailors were seen as softer, more respected at the “top” of the chain—they were the majority of those the author interviewed.
U.S. naval initiation rituals, and those performed when crossing the Equator, featured cross-dressing, spanking, simulated oral and anal sex, or penetration with various objects. While U.S. military service policies have been tightened to preclude many of these activities today, some such behavior still exists.
Zeeland’s subjects varied in how much they wanted to reveal, protecting their service status. But they ended up describing a variety of sexual activities, ranging from anonymous sex at sea, drunken sex while in port, and group masturbation, as well as officer-enlisted, military-civilian, romantic, and long-term love affairs. Many reported that they joined the military to bolster their sense of manhood; some were heterosexually married. A number saw such behavior as part of bonding with their brothers while at sea and on leave. For others it was simply about young men being sexually alive—all part of their military service.
Joe Ryan, Colchester, VT
Melville and the American Renaissance
To the Editor:
Great issue [July-August 2022], complete with Billy Budd on the cover and much about Melville inside the magazine. However, there was one striking omission in the piece by Andrew Holleran about the relationship between F. O. Matthiessen and Russell Cheney as discussed in Scott Bane’s A Union Like Ours. Matthiessen named five writers as the central figures in what he called the “American Renaissance.” Holleran included in his list only Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Hawthorne, omitting Herman Melville.
Forgive me if this seems a small matter, but I’ve read Moby-Dick six times, ran a graduate seminar based on [Matthiessen’s book] The American Renaissance and another limited to Melville and Hawthorne, so I’m protective of Uncle Herman. What’s more, Matthiessen’s assessment of Melville in his magnum opus places him in the top tier of writers in the English language.
Elliott Mackle, Atlanta
Masculinity Not the Culprit Here
To the Editor:
I want to thank Daniel Burr for his astute comment (in “Climbers and Creepers of the High Chaparral,” May-June 2022 issue) regarding the phrase “toxic masculinity.” Indeed it does not have any specific meaning, and as such is a typical “snarl word,” separating people simplistically into guilty and innocent.
Annie Proulx has a brilliant analysis of the fear of homosexuality in Nevadan culture, which was her motive for writing Brokeback Mountain. Ennis feared involvement, as did Phil [Benedict Cumberbatch’s character] in The Power of the Dog. Both Thomas Savage and Proulx reveal a tragedy of complex interaction between a subculture’s world view and repressed desire. To stigmatize masculinity as the cause of such fear is what Proulx did not want to convey. (See Proulx’s essay “Getting Movied,” in Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay (Scribner’s, 2005).
Jay Gertzman, Edgewater, NJ
Stein Not a ‘Shakespeare’ Habitué
To the Editor:
Regarding the review of The Paris Bookseller in the May-June 2022 issue: it is a novel, so perhaps author Kerri Maher felt free to take a certain license in presenting Sylvia Beach’s relations with the great literary figures who crossed the threshold of Shakespeare & Company. Not having read her book, I assume that your reviewer, Charles Green, has correctly characterized Beach’s relations with Gertrude Stein in the way Maher intended. My own interest regarding Sylvia Beach and Gertrude Stein emerges from the research I did for my recently published biography George Platt Lynes: The Daring Eye. The young Lynes lived in Paris in 1925-26 and was inspired by Beach’s bookstore. He also became a frequent visitor to the Gertrude Stein-Alice B. Toklas salon.
What I wish to point out is that scholarship on 1920’s Paris and on Gertrude Stein in particular paints a portrait somewhat at odds with the novel’s use of Stein as “a sustained presence” among the LGBT “figures who were habitués of the bookstore.” According to James Mellow’s Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein & Company, Stein “became the first annual subscriber to Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Company” in 1920. But while things began “cordially,” according to Mellow, Beach herself claimed that relations between the two women “cooled considerably” after Shakespeare & Company published James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922. Their estrangement is suggested in the novel when Maher has Stein “disparaging Joyce” as “that Irishman” and “staying away from the bookstore whenever Beach is working on Ulysses” (in Green’s words).
But more damning is that following Shakespeare & Company’s publication of Ulysses, Stein visited the shop to tell Beach, per Mellow, that “she would now be subscribing to the American Library, on the Right Bank.” Stein saw herself as the leading Modernist among English writers in Paris, and Beach’s support for Joyce was taken as disloyalty. Even more telling is how Sylvia Beach characterized Stein’s pronouncements at her salon, as Mellow tells it: “Gertrude, Sylvia Beach recalled, has ‘so much charm’ that others forgave her the ‘monstrous absurdities’ she sometimes uttered.”
Allen Ellenzweig, New York City
As many readers informed us, the July-August 2022 issue contained an error in the BTW column concerning soon-to-be ex-Congressman Madison Cawthorn, whose home state was given as Pennsyl-vania. In fact, he represents a district in North Carolina (but lost his primary, so he’ll be gone by next January).