‘Queen’ Piece Deemed Unworthy
To the Editor:
Hidden away in the July-August issue with beautiful commentary on remarkably accomplished people—Lincoln Kirstein, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Gore Vidal—is a silly, degrading, mean-spirited essay, “What Makes a Queen a Queen?” On the one hand, I am dismayed by how many kinds of queen the author knows—nap queen, Christmas queen, control queen, chicken, leather, opera, sweater, dish, and drag. He ends by unearthing, bemoaning, real estate queens. Each kind is clumsily campy.
Two phrases are good as phrases: “pollination of invidious information” (dick queen) and “a drag queen who’s no queen is a mere transvestite.” Note the “invidious” and “mere.” Earlier he throws “acidulous” and “instability” around.
It is vaguely interesting, I suppose, that his malice is articulate, looking down upon inferiors. Note the altitude toward Whitman: “Leaves of grass! Who does she think she is?” But for a more serious and respectful study of gay slang, I would recommend Bruce Rodgers’ Gay Talk: A (Sometimes Outrageous) Dictionary of Gay Slang (1979) or Paul Baker’s Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari & Gay Slang (2003).
Paul Stacy, Bloomfield, CT
Jim Cory Replies:
Paul Stacy’s letter has the tone of a devout churchgoer who arrives one Sunday morning, expecting to commune with the supreme, and is “dismayed” to discover a disturbance among the pews: someone is whispering too loudly; a baby is bawling. This is a sad world, full of disappointments.
That the piece was “silly,” I plead guilty as charged. One can never be too silly, if by silly one means “absurd and foolish.” Something like fun. Since just about any experience can be processed either as tragedy or farce, the writer must make a choice when approaching material. Mine will always bend toward farce—who knows why?
The term “queen” is the product of gay bars and carries a suitable payload of empathy, generosity, and mischief. My point is to celebrate what the term is and does. It’s linguistic Teflon, deflecting the straight world’s scorn. It turns derision into pride by means of solidarity. It’s an infinitely adaptable one-word poem that has all the genius of authentic folklore, since gay men have always owned it. Alas, in an ever more homogenized (monetized, sanitized, etc.) world, it seems to be going away.
Lastly, to the point about Walt Whitman: if you have ever been privileged to watch as an actual celebrity enters a gay bar, you might have observed how this event sets off palpable waves of excitement. I’m not quite old enough to have accompanied Walt Whitman, a habitué, into Pfaff’s, but have no trouble imagining his reception among the tipsy opera queens who regularly gathered there.
Shallow Play Didn’t Deserve the Praise
To the Editor:
Allen Ellenzweig’s review of S. Asher Gelman’s Afterglow (Sept.-Oct. 2017 issue) is more than a bit too forgiving—and his closing comment about the final exit of one of the play’s three characters somehow being “shades of [Ibsen’s] Nora” is quite a stretch. It would certainly be refreshing to have plays in which the LGBT characters were not victims, or on the verge of death, or conflicted beyond repair. But Afterglow is at best a (not very good) soap opera married to soft core porn.
None of the three characters in Afterglow is fully developed, and none is at all sympathetic, not the least Josh, who breaks up his marriage to Alex when he becomes fixated on the younger Darius because, at age thirty, Josh is having a mid-life crisis. That Josh is inconsolable when Darius decides to move back home is ludicrous, given that “back home” is all the way across the Hudson, in New Jersey! As Ellenzweig does note, the subplot about Josh and Alex having a child through surrogacy goes nowhere. But other issues are left unresolved or unexplored: safer sex among the polyamorous; the exploitation, emotional and otherwise, that threesomes inevitably must confront; and the financial realities of two people (one a graduate student) managing to live in New York with enough disposable income for Josh to support Darius on the side, let alone for the both of them to support a child.
Kevin J. Harty, Philadelphia
Agreed: Saving the Planet Is a Gay Cause
To the Editor:
I was overjoyed (and to be honest, thunderstruck) to read two excellent environmental pieces in The G&LR [Sept.-Oct. 2017], Lewis Gannett’s on climate change and Eric Robertson’s on saving our planet. Since Stonewall and before, we gay people have proudly claimed our divergent sexuality, insisting it is normal and must not disqualify us from any human rights enjoyed by the majority. With the appearance of these pieces, new voices are being heard, encouraging us to pledge solidarity with the many scientists who are concerned about the fate of all life, including our species, on this planet.
One of the watchwords of our drive for equality has been “diversity.” And certainly we support the idea that all individuals, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality or gender history, have the potential to contribute to human progress, culture, and well-being, and that we are richer for cultivating friendships with all sorts of people. However, in the field of biology, “diversity” has a more technical meaning, and it’s related to one of the reasons that life has been able to endure on planet earth.
The laws of chemistry and physics—the laws that explain the birth of the universe, solar system, the planet, the history of our planet and the presence of elements that made the beginning of life possible here—are fairly immutable (despite occasional adjustments), and while these laws may lead to catastrophic and unexpected events, they cause very little that cannot be explained.
On the other hand, the reactions that began life and continue it via the evolution of living things have apparently evolved toward looser types of “laws” that include on-off switches, genetic imperfections and errors that introduce chance and many other qualifiers. These complicated “laws,” which we are just beginning to tease out, introduce diversity into a population via new traits or abilities that may allow the survival of a species if a new predator should show up, or a new disease, a change in the habitat, or the introduction of a new poison by humans. Diversity is evolution’s way of hedging its bets.
Many of us had a feeling from early childhood that we were somehow different, that there was an unchangeable part of us that would some day have to be dealt with. When we later realized what this difference was, most of us said to ourselves, “I’m a good person. I’ve never harmed anyone. I’m going to keep this difference a secret for a while since it seems unchangeable, and I’ll see, as life goes on, what accommodations or possibilities there may be.”
This genetically connected part of ourselves puts us in a new world: the world of the minority, and many of us have taken up the struggle for racial, gender, religious, and ethnic equality in addition to our own. Now we can add a new component: our bond with all living things that, like us, are defined and, in a sense, imprisoned by their genetic identity. All of us—people, animals, plants, bacteria—do the best we can with the cards we are dealt.
Jeff Panciera, Seattle