Where Harry Hay Found ‘Mattachine’
To the Editor:
We read often in these pages that Harry Hay was a seminal voice and organizer in the “homophile” movement of the 1950s. In reference to the mention of him in the July-August 2022 issue, in the essay titled “Sex and Gender in Native America,” I felt that one important detail was left out. It concerns the derivation of the very word “Mattachine,” which we recognize as the moniker attached by Hay to his nascent organization but often without understanding its significance.
I am hardly an expert in this area, but I do live and work among a community here in what is now southern Arizona, that includes among its diverse population a sizeable minority of people affiliated with the Yaqui, also known as the Yoeme, tribe. With a long and rich tradition in neighboring Sonora, Mexico, these indigenous communities were seeking refuge in the U.S. to escape an oppressive regime to the south in the early to mid-20th century. They were finally granted full legal protections and (limited) land rights here in the 1970s.
Among the traditions shared by these tribes is a set of elaborate ceremonies leading up to Easter in which a number of the dances are performed, including those of Los Matachines. Each group has distinctive costumes and movements that tell the Passion narrative in a uniquely syncretic fashion.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing the matachín come into the plaza knows that they are accompanied by one or more boys, each dressed in a sky-blue frock. It’s a fast, uplifting dance step that all the men do in unison, which someone more knowledgeable than I might be able to interpret. Be that as it may, the gender transgression of young males in feminine attire is unmistakable. Clearly Harry Hay did his homework when naming the Mattachines.
Alex Kouvel, Tucson, AZ
A Poet’s Choice
To the Editor:
I read with interest the review of the late Jim Nawrocki’s collection House Fire: Stories and Poems [in the Sept.-Oct. ’22 issue]. First of all, I was saddened to learn of his passing in 2018. I write now to fill in some information from my perspective as former editor of White Crane Journal.
The review states that “A manuscript of his poetry was selected as the winner of the 2009 James White Poetry Prize, but for some reason it was never published.” Jim was indeed named as the winner of the prize, which was offered by White Crane in celebration of its 20th anniversary. The judge for the prize was the esteemed poet Mark Doty. The main prize was publication of the winner’s work as a book, along with a cash award. The reason the book never came out is that Jim declined to have it published when he learned that White Crane was a print-on-demand publisher. Apparently he believed this method of publication was unsuitable for his work.
Fair enough, but I wanted to make the point that it was Jim’s decision not to go forward with the book at that time. I am pleased to learn that his work has at last seen the light of day.
Bo Young, Granville, NY
The Night I Met James Kirkwood
To the Editor:
Regarding the Art Memo “Welcome to the ‘70s!” (July-August 2022) about James Kirkwood: when I was in high school in the early 1970s, my mother brought home two of James Kirkwood’s books: Good Times/Bad Times and There Must Be a Pony. (What was she thinking?) I barely remember them, and the online descriptions of them don’t sound promising, but they had a profound effect upon me as an up-and-coming lesbian. I was moved to write to Mr. Kirkwood, and we had an infrequent twelve-year correspondence.
Around 1974, when I was in college, there was a production of P.S. Your Cat Is Dead in Buffalo, NY, so I arranged for four of us college kids to meet up with Mr. Kirkwood prior to a performance. He was very gracious, funny, and kind. I’d like to think he is remembered that way, and, according to a brief article from 2012 in The East Hampton Star, he is: ”He was vital, witty, and intelligent, loyal and generous to friends and family.” I particularly liked the quotations at the end of the book—this one from a fellow playwright, Terrence McNally: “People will still say out of the blue, ‘God, I miss Jimmy.’ … When people say ‘Jimmy,’ they don’t have to say ‘Jimmy Kirkwood’—and it’s a pretty common name. But he was Jimmy and people still miss him and I can’t think of many people that you can say over fifteen years after they’ve left, ‘Oh God, I miss Jimmy.’”
Diane Hamer, Georgetown, MA
The Times Owes It to C. A. Tripp
To the Editor:
The history of C. A. Tripp by Martin Duberman was very interesting, especially Mr. Duberman’s description of his personal connection with several of the people he included in “When C. A. Met Alfred, Part 1” [Nov.-Dec. 2021]. I was shocked to read about the sneering reception that Mr. Tripp’s book, The Homosexual Matrix, received in the New York Times (though not at all surprised at that reaction in 1975).
I subscribe to The International New York Times, which also furnishes online access. I was curious to know whether the NYT had ever issued a “mea culpa.” My search of their archives resulted in scant mention of either the book or Mr. Tripp between the publication of the review and Tripp’s obituary in 2003. Interestingly, the latter provided a more positive impression of The Homosexual Matrix but was deafeningly silent about their 1975 book review.
As you may know, The Times has been publishing memorials to people who died in obscurity or underappreciated before the newspaper became “woke.” Perhaps Mr. Duberman or The G&LR could reach out to The Times to suggest that Mr. Tripp deserves a similar “overlooked no more” article.
Rusty Wyrick, Ghivizzano, Italy
That Underreported Dinner Party
To the Editor:
In a Letter to the Editor in the July-August issue, Michael Bedwell tells of a 1949 literary gathering for novelist E. M. Forster, who was visiting America, hosted by New York socialites Monroe Wheeler and his lover Glenway Wescott, whose 1971 New York Times article is the source of this information. Photographer George Platt Lynes, with his mother Adelaide, came for cocktails to meet Forster and his “friend of long standing” Bob Buckingham and arrange to photograph them later in the week. At the dinner party, after the Lyneses left there remained the two hosts; Forster and Buckingham; and two more, perhaps incongruous, guests: sexologist Alfred C. Kinsey and comparative religion scholar Joseph Campbell.
I was intrigued that Campbell had been invited. The reason, I assume, is that Forster was the celebrated author of A Passage to India and Campbell was an Indologist and Sanskrit scholar. This dinner sounds like a fairly gay event. I am always happy to gain evidence of Campbell’s open-mindedness in this regard—and at a time (1949) when it wasn’t the norm. Campbell himself was not gay; his first real girlfriend was Adelle Davis, later the health food maven and inventor of tiger’s milk, and he was famously married to Broadway choreographer Jean Erdman.
Gracious and open-minded—that’s how I experienced Joseph Campbell. In 1971, I was a young ex-monk, a hippie, a grad student in comparative religions, and a budding, outspoken gay activist. And I worked at a Jungian-oriented seminar center north of San Francisco, which is how I met and befriended Joe. I continued on the team that put on his appearances in Northern California and carried on a personal correspondence with him through the ’70s.
Only half jokingly I fancy myself “Joseph Campbell’s apostle to the gay community.” His explanation of religion saved me from my 1950s Catholic upbringing. As editor of White Crane Journal and writer about gay men’s spirituality, I’ve touted his perspective as a naturally gay way to understand religion. Such an understanding can be a positive cure for the homophobia and confusion that traditional religion imposes on gay and sex-variant people. My gay spirituality books are about how Campbell’s understanding of myth as a clue to the nature and patterns of consciousness explains the religious problems away. So I can’t help but wonder about the exchange between Campbell and Kinsey.
An Internet search on this dinner party will bring up Wescott’s article with its couple of sly hints at the conversation. It did not make it into any of Campbell’s published journals, the director of the Campbell Foundation told me, but those journals are now in the New York Public Library’s Joseph Campbell Collection and are open to the public. If any G&LR reader would peruse Joe’s journals for 1949, I think we’d all love to know what he wrote about that evening.
Toby Johnson, Austin, TX