Letters to the Editor

Published in: July-August 2024 issue.


Don’t Forget, Byron Had Another Side

To the Editor:

            William Kuhn’s Art Memo in the May-June 2024 issue, “Why Lord Byron Still Matters,” takes a decorous view of Byron’s life and sidesteps the relevance of his work today. For two centuries now, Byron’s “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” mystique formed the archetype of the “live hard, die young” ethos. For all his sexual fluidity, he never took a stand in defense of same-sex attraction (Wilde), or opposite-sex attraction for that matter. Rather, he left a self-indulgent debris trail of unrequited family, liaisons and debt stretching from London to Athens.

            If Kuhn had no qualms about applying trauma-informed perspectives to Byron’s biography, then it seems only fair to view his life through privilege and the problematic escapades of Empire. Capable of both extraordinary generosity and selfishness, Byron is most famous for being infamous, and, as a libertine expatriate, he milked his celebrity for all it was worth. His idiosyncratic epic poems are steeped in exoticism (and eroticism) enabled by the privilege of his marginal aristocratic station. Ultimately for me, his artistic relevance is in autofiction and the intentionally blurred facts and fictions of the “New Narrative.”

Mark Timothy Hayward, Los Angeles

Another Amber Hollibaugh Memory

To the Editor:

            Thanks for John D’Emilio’s tribute to his friend, the wonderful writer, activist, and femme extraordinaire Amber Hollibaugh [March-April 2024 issue]. In 2000, Duke published her book My Dangerous Desires: A Queer Girl Dreaming Her Way Home.

            When Amber improbably worked for the staid AARP, she curated a panel of minority speakers that included Anita Hill, Dolores Huerta, Wilma Mankiller, Buddhist priest-activist Angela Oh, and me. We each had five minutes to talk. Amber had us paid $5,000 each.

Peg Cruikshank, Scarborough, ME

Openly Gay Art Needs to Be Seen

To the Editor:

            I enjoyed your San Francisco-themed issue [March-April 2024], and was happy to see Ignacio Darnaude’s article on the exhibition of the work of artists Paul Wonner and William Theophilus Brown. The show traveled to Memphis from the Crocker Museum in Sacramento, where I reviewed it for Squarecylinder and the Bay Area Reporter.

            Curator Scott Shields and the Crocker Art Museum deserve commendation for elevating the profile of Wonner and Brown. We live in difficult times when LGBT people are being pushed back into the closet, or worse. And yet, blue-chip gay artists like Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol are largely immune from attack. Even Robert Mapplethorpe, now fully monetized, is no longer shocking. Kenji Yoshino, in his book Covering, describes how marginalized minorities adopt survival strategies of hiding and concealment. That wasn’t necessary for artists like Agnes Martin or Ellsworth Kelley; they lived discrete lives and worked abstractly. Artists such as David Park encoded what many read as gay imagery, but critics still generally ignore such interpretations.

            It is not to diminish Wonner and Brown’s art to point out that their need to hold down jobs and sell their artwork may have caused them to pull their punches. The late Bay Area artist Richard Caldwell Brewer, roughly the same age as Brown and Wonner, grabbed the bull by the horns with explicit homoerotic imagery and paid the ultimate art world price: obscurity and erasure. Bernice Bing, with three strikes against her—Asian, lesbian, and female—is only now getting the belated recognition she deserves.

Robert Brokl, Oakland, CA

Was the Translation a Lie?

To the Editor:

            In his review of the film version of Lie with Me [May-June 2024], Allen Ellenzweig says that it’s not clear why the original French title, Arrête avec tes mensonges, literally “Stop with your lies,” was changed. I suggest it might be because “Lie with Me” is a much more clever and appropriate title. The English version, with its double meaning, better reflects the double life that both characters were leading as teenagers. In my estimation, it’s simply a better title.

John DeMoss, Topeka, KS

A Photo Misidentified

To the Editor:

            Having done a fair amount of research on William Dorsey Swann, the African-American man documented as the first publicly recognized drag queen, I can assure your readers that the photo contained in Vernon Rosario’s insightful piece in the March-April 2024 issue is not of Swann. Well documented as he was, there is no known image of him. It is, instead, Jack Brown, an American from Virginia, in drag, dancing the cakewalk in France, in 1903. There is a wonderful clip of the dance on the web.

Robb Dimmick, Providence, RI


In the May-June 2024 issue, in a review of Soula Emmanuel’s Wild Geese, the U.S. publisher should have been listed as Feminist Press (not Footnote Press, which published the UK edition).