February 27, 2007

Was Washington Irving gay?

Richard Brookhiser examines a new biography of the writer:
[H]e was a restless man. He traveled constantly, never married and did not buy a home of his own until his 50s. "His smile is one of the sweetest I know," wrote a woman friend, "but he can look very, very sad." Was he gay? [Andrew] Burstein examines the question without prurience or presentism and concludes that he doesn't quite know. There are no deeply intimate relationships between men and women in Irving's fiction; what he lost in realism, though, he made up in myth.
The book is called "The Original Knickerbocker." From the Publisher's Weekly blurb at that Amazon link:
... Burstein thinks it more likely the writer was simply a bachelor, a respectable role in his time and place.
What do you think of this practice of examining external facts of the life of a person long dead in an effort to determine his sexual orientation? Are we engaging in "presentism" and failing to understand what was done in other times and places if we assume that unmarried men who have no apparent intimate relationships with women had a homosexual orientation (whether acted upon or not)?

69 comments:

Pogo said...

Another fixation of the deconstructionists (or whatever the Foucauldians are calling their technique this week).

I suppose this makes some people feel more personally legitimated, but it shouldn't. Without solid evidence, it's garbage; merely gossip, not scholarship. With solid evidence, I still wonder what difference it makes. The self esteem gained by wearing a Michael Jordan shirt is equally effective.

It reminds me of some attempts by black academics to claim that virtually all important cultural advances and scientific discoveries originated in Africa, but were stolen.

George said...

The author's other books are:

Jefferson's Secrets: Death & Desire in Monticello

and

The Passions of Andrew Jackson

Hmmm...seems like a powdered wig fixation to me.

Matt Brown said...

Wasn't there a book on Lincoln about this very thing?

Cedarford said...

More postmodern crap. Foucault's minions have perfectly played academia's "tolerant" acceptance of various angry critical studies groups - angry women, angry blacks, angry queers - along with academia's demand that scholarship be "new and original".
From a conventional perspective, Washington Irving has been well-written about. Same with thousands of other major literary figures.

But deconstruct Irving as Queer, and you automatically have "orginal, fresh, and exciting scholarship" - even though it is at it's core speculative garbage.

If the schools had collectively decided to accept alien influence &space alien abduction as a legitimate academic field, you would have a plethora of "original, exciting" research such as dozens into Shakespeare "revealed and deconstructed from a refreshing new perspective" as alien-influenced, engineering advances as alien-inspired. And schools self-perpetuating the malarky by founding new Departments in Alien Studies and hiring a pile of new PhD's steered into the field as a great new tenure track.

As is, Universities see all the "original work" in the humanities and even with affairs like the Sokol spoof of using Po-Mo language to "deconstruct" mathematics --coming from Foucault's minions. Busy outing Christ and John the Baptist as Queer, Queen Victoria the repressed lesbian, Lucretia Borgia as feminist icon, and a "brilliant essay proving everything Edison invented, he stole from a secret black genius who cleaned his labs". So they want to create and hire more deconstructionists and Critical Studies people so they too can be as elite and prestigious as Duke, Yale, Berkeley are with their famous angry black, feminist, and queer study experts.

Cedarford said...

Matt Brown - Wasn't there a book on Lincoln about this very thing?

7:36 AM


Yeah. Along with hundreds of other major figures supposedly outed as Queers - including Nixon, Jeffersons supposed "gay phase" which competes with angry black studies research that he was made Afro-Centric when he designed Monticello by the architectural insights of slave women he supposedly bedded. Add in MLK's secretary, Tesla, various Kings, Hitler, Mao, Saul(Paul the Disciple)...with all their actions and contributions stemming primarily from their gay perspective all their negatives (Hitler, Nixon, various Popes, et al) from intolerant society forcing them to represss their homosexuality.

Joseph Hovsep said...

Pogo & Cedarford, I don't think this has anything to do with Foucault or postmodern deconstruction. Its an historical/biographical investigation into a long-dead writer's private life.

Knowing the personal history and life experience of a writer is useful to better understand their writing in historical and personal context. Some famous people from the past were homosexual. Its not postmodernism that makes people wonder who may have been gay. Its partly the desire to more deeply understand the person and his writing. And its partly the same ancient human interest that drives us to seek out and share gossip.

Of course its not safe to assume a person is gay on the basis of what looks gay from our modern perspective, but I don't see how asking and investigating the question is offensive. Maybe he never had intimate relationships with a woman because he was asexual, maybe he was mysogynist, maybe he was a hermaphrodite and too ashamed to allow himself intimacy with another person, maybe he was gay, maybe he just never met the right woman, maybe he had lots of lady friends but was very discreet. Whatever the case may have been, understanding such inner struggles or motivations may offer insight into the man and his writing.

Tim said...

"Presentism"? For some, maybe. Or an irrational need to catalogue all and everything, pushing odd folks into groups to which they don't belong. But I think the larger impulse is a rather transparent "expropriating validation and accreditation by proxy."

How? Go back in time, identify some known historic person or group, assign him or them attributes similar to your own. And, if plausible, simultaneously suggest his or their virtues or accomplishments apply to yourself or your group, thereby validating your or your group's identity with the now expropriated virtue.

Thus we get the notion that Egyptians were flying around the pyramids...or that Lincoln was gay.

Pogo said...

Re: "Its an historical/biographical investigation into a long-dead writer's private life."

No, it's not. It's a desperate attempt to claim all important people as gay via the stupid method of forcing a conclusion based on little or no evidence. Moreover, it relies completely on the very stereotypes that gay men deride, at least when it suits them.

Bachelor? Gay.
Artist? Gay.
"Bookish and dreamy"? Gay.
"no deeply intimate relationships between men and women in Irving's fiction"? Gay.

Patrick said...

"Whatever the case may have been, understanding such inner struggles or motivations may offer insight into the man and his writing."

But that's precisely what it isn't. It is attaching inner struggles and motivations to the man, based on outside information.

It is artificially trying to attach certain beliefs when the culture and era would more readily attach other beliefs.

That's bad history. Because it tries to attach some new interpretation precisely without more inside information.

We could come up with all sorts of reasons why he was apparently celibate, and it is contemporary views which lead us to think he was homosexual or misogynistic or whatever. Maybe he was just shy with women. Maybe he was particularly moral for whatever reason and without a wife he did without sex. Maybe he lost a sweetheart when he was a young man and stayed true to her. We don't know.

Making things up doesn't add insight about anyone except the author. It does sell books.

bill said...

What do you think of this practice of examining external facts of the life of a person long dead in an effort to determine his sexual orientation?
It depends. Nothing wrong with a reexamination of perceptions and truths. Maybe earlier historians were blinded by their biases. Short of overwhelming evidence--and acknowledging that our own biases and prejudices may get in the way--it can be entertaining to explore as "this may be wrong, but suppose...."

Are we engaging in "presentism" and failing to understand what was done in other times and places if we assume that unmarried men who have no apparent intimate relationships with women had a homosexual orientation (whether acted upon or not)?
Sometimes. Maybe most of the time. Empathy is difficult, made harder with the passage of time; though even empathy can be a roadblock to understanding. But exploring what we know and what we think we know can be entertaining. Sometimes illuminating (and maybe what it illuminates is the historian and our times more than the subject). Sometimes wrong.

In the end, Brookhiser makes me want to go back and reread Washington and buy Burstein's biography.

Joseph Hovsep said...

Pogo: It's a desperate attempt to claim all important people as gay via the stupid method of forcing a conclusion based on little or no evidence.

Based on the linked descriptions of the book, I don't think that's what's going on at all. The book is about the author's life, all aspects of it, including his status as a lifelong bachelor. On the singular issue of whether he might have been gay, the author concludes probably not based on evidence available and the historical context, though its impossible to say for sure now. You seem to be offended at the mere asking of the question, that we should assume without question that everyone in history who hasn't waved a rainbow flag or had gay sex in public was straight. The answer may be, and based on the summary analysis, probably is, that Irving was not gay, but I think being a lifelong bachelor with no intimate relationships with women is sufficient evidence to raise the question.

Todd said...

Contra some earlier posters, Foucault (and, no doubt, these minions he apparently has running about) would actually disagree with calling Irving "gay". Remember he argues that homosexuality wasn't even invented as an ontological concept until the 1870s.

From The History of Sexuality, vol. I: "The sodomite was a recidivist, but the homosexual is now a species."

TMink said...

Cedarford, excellent post. One of your best. Outstanding.

Joseph wrote: "Knowing the personal history and life experience of a writer is useful to better understand their writing in historical and personal context."

For me the term "knowing" is the key. If that verb is changed to speculating, the whole comcept falls apart and the whole thing becomes an exercise in mastubatory projection, or at least it tends to. Kinda like a non-binding resoloution, what is the point aside from posturing?

Trey

Pogo said...

Re: You seem to be offended at the mere asking of the question...

Not offended, bored. What pointless drivel. Like the word "scrotum" in a child's book inserted to draw contrversy, it's an idle speculation based on nothing, where historical material did not evince the question itself, but instead was raised because it seems that all modern biographies have the closets checked for any homosexaulity hiding therein.

That is, it was specualtion done for the most cynical of reasons, not to tell Irving's story, but to sell this book about Irving. It discredits the entire biography, in my view.

Did the author similarly inquire whether Irving was a pedophile, arsonist, Rosicrucian, actually written by Bacon, into leather, or secretly a woman? Why not?

Joseph Hovsep said...

Pogo: That is, it was specualtion done for the most cynical of reasons, not to tell Irving's story, but to sell this book about Irving. It discredits the entire biography, in my view.

I don't disagree that raising the issue of whether a historical figure was gay is done because it sells. But I think never having an intimate relationship with a romantic partner is something eminently worthy of noting when writing the figure's biography and that "why" is a natural question to investigate.

Did the author similarly inquire whether Irving was a pedophile, arsonist, Rosicrucian, actually written by Bacon, into leather, or secretly a woman? Why not?

If your theory is that the author raised the question of Irving's sexuality with no basis and only to sell books, then he could have investigated any of those scandalous accusations to similar effect. The difference is that questioning his sexuality follows naturally from evidence that he had no intimate relationships in his lifetime, whereas questioning whether he burned down buildings, practices alchemy or published other's works as his own are not, at least for me, speculations that naturally follow.

PatCA said...

He was a socialist, too! From one essay: "The almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion..."


These "biographies" are Kitty Kelley with footnotes.

Beth said...

What do you think of this practice of examining external facts of the life of a person long dead in an effort to determine his sexual orientation?

Anything that gets Cedarford's panties in a twist is an excellent exercise in scholarship, in my view. Cedarford, when you use the word "angry" over and over to describe other people, it starts to look like it's really you who's foaming at the mouth. And what a bonus! Pogo waxes on about deconstructionism and TMink sagely agrees. This is too good to be true.

And in Irving's case, it's likely not true. He had a least one major heterosexual romance, with Mary Shelley, who refused to marry him. She said she couldn't see herself dying with any name but Shelley on the tombstone. She slept with Percy's heart in a box by her bed--it didn't burn when he was cremated.

Beth said...

Kitty Kelley with footnotes

That's a good description, but I think it's entirely fair to give the past the Kitty Kelley approach. Take Irving again. He ran in circles that would have been the National Enquirer subjects of their day. The Romantics were fodder for widespread gossip--and more weightily, political intrigue. The contemporary sources saw their liaisons as objects of interest; why shouldn't we?

Richard Dolan said...

What a strange thread. I am not much interested in the sexual orientation of famous writers of the past, and so there's not much chance that I'll read this study of Washington Irving. But I agree completely with Joseph Hosvep's comment that there is nothing about that inquiry that is inherently offensive or, ultimately, different from any other biographical inquiry.

Since Joseph's comments seem clearly right, even common sensical, to me, I was struck by the vehement protests by pogo, cedarford and others, to the effect that this biographer's inconclusive inquiry into Irving's sexual orientation can be dismissed -- based only on that fact -- as mere speculation or irrelevant "gossip" or wholly uninformative or obvious "crap." One or all of those criticisms may well be apt with respect to any particular biography. But, at best, those are all criticisms aimed at the persuasiveness with which the biographer makes his case, and can be made only after one has read the book. The same criticisms could be applied to any conclusion drawn by a biographer; there is nothing unique about a biographer's inquiry into an author's sexual orientation that marks sexual orientation as an illegitimate subject of biographical inquiry with respect to any given author. The same, of course, could be said about an inquiry into any of the categories on pogo's list -- whether the author was a Rosicrucian, communist, vegetarian or anything else.

Behind the faux literary protestations in this thread, what comes through here as subtext (now there's a bit of deconstruction!) is an objection that these ostensibly literary biographies are really engaged in some an underhanded normative exercise -- the biographer's point is not to get at any actual aspect of a particular author's biography or to explore how those aspects of biography may have impacted his work, but instead to claim the author as another "trophy" for a politically driven "gender" agenda. Again, that's just a fancy way of complaining that the biographer did a lousy job, or offered unpersuasive evidence for a pre-ordained and agenda-driven conclusion.

Similarly far off the mark is the complaint that these biographical studies are an exercise in deconstruction or "more postmodern crap." To the contrary, biography as the accepted mode of literary criticism was the academic standard before it was pushed aside by the New Criticism. The focus on gender and sexual orientation is certainly trendy, but is also (at least in part) a function of more mundane considerations. An author about to embark on a new biography of a familiar figure needs to have something new to say, if he wants his book to sell (or to impress academic colleagues, if that was the real point). Nothing much postmodern about that. So even when the theme of a book is trendy or postmodern or anything else, it's still true that you can't judge it by its cover (at least, most of the time).

C.J.Colucci said...

A few years ago, I attended a presentation by Andrew Kaufman, who wrote a long-gestating biography of Benjamin Cardozo. He said that the question he was most frequently asked was whether Cardozo, who never married and was never known to have had a relationship with a woman other than his sister, was gay. As far as Kaufman could tell, he was not, and people coming from the close-knit, tightly circumscribed Jewish circles in which Cardozo grew up often had limited acceptable marital options in those days, so a bachelor (and even celibate) life was relatively common, certainly not prima facie evidence of homosexuality.

Pogo said...

Re: ...biography as the accepted mode of literary criticism was the academic standard...

Heh. Mebbe so. But it's this kind of astrology-as-literary-criticism put me off novels years ago. (Dooes the text mean anything in isolation or not?) Picking through the entrails and garbage cans and chicken bones of the Irving estate in order to derive the null asnswer to the burning question of his uncertain sexuality is of paramount importance to university types since 1960. It seems a peculiar waste of time in understanding "Sleepy Hollow."

But then I don't teach Lit and have little or no taste at all. As a result, as Mr. Dolan suggests, I'm one of the unwashed, wholy unqualified to comment on things literary, just make "faux literary protestations" and exhibbit my complete nonunderstanding of the various rules and shades and subtleties of panFoucauldianism and PoMo.

Me? I simply don't care if Shakespeare was gay or Lincoln was gay or Jesus was gay. That this seems to be the main interest of most modern biographies is evidenced by the fact that these biographies only get press (or read) when such claims are inserted. The agenda is merely sales.

Proof? He had a least one major heterosexual romance, with Mary Shelley, who refused to marry him.
And the press yawns.

Beth said...

Pogo, why put down novels when it's the criticism that bothers you? If you're actually ignorant of things Foucauldian and Postmodern, why keep pulling those terms out of your ass? And similarly, if you're so bored by this topic, why comment so copiously on it?

It's the gay thing. You're like a bull with a red flag. You're out in your happy little field, grazing a bit here and there, but what's that? Gay thing?? Snort! Stomp! Charge!

Pogo said...

Beth,
The whole atmosphere of novels was ruined for me in college, for this very reason. It became too much like diagramming sentences, but now diagramming fiction to sort out the inherent bias and power structure. Ish. I just wanted a good read.

I don't think myself ignorant of postmodernism; over the years I've read quite alot about it. I can follow its arguments quite clearly, I think, as well. But I find that discussions with Lit teachers often feel like I'm talking baseball with George Will or 80s music with Nick Hornby, where one is not worthy to discuss the topic because Killebrew's 1967 RBI was unknown to me, or my ignorance of the the B-side to that seminal Pixies single exposed me as a flat-earthed hick. Well shit, I just wanted to talk politics.

I'm not bored by the topic, I'm tired of gayness having become the Measure of All Things in the last 20 years. For pete's sake, someone's sexuality is of the least interest to me. I want to know what they think about, not what they're doing to whom. The former is the world of ideas, the latter is just gossip. Who gives a damn? And if there's nothing more to add about Irving without making stuff up, quit writing about him.

Re: "You're like a bull with a red flag. "
Quite right. Here's my red flag:
"News Item: [insert famous name here] was gay."
It lacks importance, and strikes me as the mere following of an agenda, betrays an obsession with sex that isn't the least bit healthy, or at least suggests that one can't see beyond the genitals as the-most-important-thing-in-the-world.

Beth said...

Pogo,
The crux of our disagreement is over what gayness is. For you, it's insert tab A in slot B=it's just sex. For others, including me, it isn't just doing, just sex, it's being, and thought, those things you purport to be interested in. That's why I call it a red flag for you. When you see gay as an aspect of a conversation, you lose your peripheral vision and see only a narrow, visceral provocation. Others are able to imbue sexual orientation with more context and depth. And we do it with heterosexuality as well. How can we discuss Petrarch without wondering about Laura? Literature isn't just a product of the mind, but of the whole person. That's worth wondering about, and researching.

Pogo said...

Re: "Literature isn't just a product of the mind, but of the whole person."

I disagree, and think the crux of our disagreement is here instead. I think the mind can be wholly separate from the person, and it's this fact that makes us more truly transcendant.

I agree that understanding someone's life can help at times, but I also think I can grasp Shakespeare knowing little or nothing about his sex life. And I'm not sure I agree that sexual orientation is key to that discovery. No, I am quite sure it is more often irrelevant.

For example, I just finsihed an adequate biography of Harper Lee (I know, I know, I read all the wrong people). Quite possibly gay by many clues, but not discussed at all. Frankly, who gives a damn? She kept it quite private, even from her biographer. Does its presence or absence change her book? No. Not at all. To what end then? In contrast, Florence King is explicit about her lesbianism. Great stuff, and funny as hell. She chose to reveal it, and discuss it, and ignore it at times. That usage I understand. applying it to Irving just looks silly.

For some people, certain works are so beautiful as to make you want to read about the author, and find deeper understanding in the beloved work by understanding them. But some authors find that tactic crap, and want their work judged on its merits, not by some heterodox check-off system.

I happen to think the endless genital-gazing detracts from novels. And it's why I rarely enjoy them anymore. Every discussion seems to begin and end with the question: Was he gay?

Beth said...

Oh Pogo, you make such good points -- I agree, sometimes we do transcend the physical, but then, more often we don't, and that's worthy of discussion, too. I agree that a bio of Harper Lee that doesn't delve into her identity is quite fine. I'd have to read one that does to judge whether it has a meaningful purpose.

But then you come back to that silly "genital gazing" crap. Sexual orientation encompasses the whole person, not just their gonads. And, no, not every conversation starts with "is he gay." Hardly any do. But when they do, you are there, like a bull on that flag.

PatCA said...

Pogo,
I have to say that I read your comments and all have been on point to Ann's post, whatever it may be. I do not think you are overly concerned about any one issue over the other.

Pogo said...

Re: "But when they do, you are there..."

I suspect you're right, the protesting too muchness of it all. Maybe I should have that looked at. I believe it's a function of my preference for the mental and spiritual over the physical, and how my humanity allows me to separate them.

I have often wondered whether or not sexual orientation must encompass the whole person. Perhaps it breaks along gender lines.

For many men, sex is an activity rather than a relationship. For many modern gay men, the sexual is political; it's part of who they are. But that has not always been the case, as the reference to Foucault above relates. It seems to me a modern social construction (where Spartans and Athenians were quite clearly bisexual this was not -unlike now- itself determinant of any one political stance).

I can see why you say what you do about 'gayness' and its centrality, but I keep coming back to the notion that the logical end of such reasoning must lead one to think that, being central, any biography (especially of an artist) lacking documentation of sexual orientation makes their life or work uninterpretable.

Surely that cannot be true.

Todd said...

Beth, You need your own blog! I'd read you every day...

Pogo, How do you know what detracts from novels, when you haven't read them since college?

Pogo said...

Re: "How do you know what detracts from novels..."

I generally avoid them, but stick my foot in the water one or two times a year. Sometimes I actually take a swim and finish a book in its entirety. I'm ovecome by the plaudits for how wonderful certain modern novels are, only to crash against the rocky shores of their overall ineptitude.

How many time did I start to read an acclaimed novel and get perhaps 3 chapters in and think good God, what fresh hell is this? and chuck the thing across the room, donate it to the library, and pick up some readable nonfiction.

TMink said...

Elizabeth (I am feeling old school today) wrote: "Sexual orientation encompasses the whole person."

How does my being straight affect how I play chess (badly) or take photos (rather well in fact)? Most of my gay clients do not want to talk about being gay, that is not the issue. They want to talk about their relationshps or their job or their dad or whatever. I am fine talking about them being gay, that is why they pay to talk to me even though I am straight, but that is almost never what they need to talk about. And I do not seek to understand them as gay or lesbian, I seek to understand them as human. We have that in common, and it is more than enough for us to communicate and work together.

Being straight does affect who I am attracted to, but I am not buying that it affects my whole being any more than my ADD does. I think this is a conservative way of thinking, of judging someone on their accomplishments and choices rather than their race, gender, or orientation.

And for the record, I appreciate you using the term "sagely" in reference to me even if it was in jest!

Trey

TMink said...

As I think more about the subject, isn't it terribly Freudian to say that orientation, like anatomy, is destiny? I think we have grown in our understanding of humanity and are quite past that.

Trey

Beth said...

Trey, I'm not arguing orientation is destiny, nor that "the whole person" means every thing one does or is interested in or needs therapy for, simply that orientation is not only a physical act but part of our mental and emotional identities as well. I wouldn't expect your clients to talk about being gay if that's not what they're wanting to deal with in therapy, but I wouldn't be surprised if their orientation came up in terms of specific relationships, work issues, etc. I'm quite specifically rejecting Pogo's notion that sexual orientation is all about genitals, and in doing so, arguing that by itself, considering how or if an author's sexuality can play a role in our responding to his work, is nothing unusual or out of bounds.

Beth said...

Trey, I'd edit that word "encompasses" given the choice. I see where you would critique that.

Beth said...

Todd, thanks! If I were disciplined enough, I'd blog. Maybe someday.

Craig Ranapia said...

Well, here's my standard answer to tittle-tattle about whether X. is gay - and that's before we start on the long-dead -: "I've never fraked the bitch and even if I had, I don't kiss (or do anything else) and tell."

I hope, in a hundred years or so, the biographer of the current Secretary of State will have much more to write about that speculating on Condi is a 'friend of Ellen' because she's entered middle-age unmarried, childless, is constantly on the move and (as far as I know) is a life-long renter...

Cedarford said...

TMink -As I think more about the subject, isn't it terribly Freudian to say that orientation, like anatomy, is destiny?

Even funnier, the only people left in America who dare publicly claim race is destiny, race is the supreme causation factor in any individual's performance and skills = happen to be the pile of angry radical blacks in Critical Studies Departments.

Beth said...

I think the phrase "tittle tattle" sums things up well. It's a childish phrase, we tittle tattle on things someone ought to hide, or be ashamed of.

Craig Ranapia said...

Beth:

Perhaps I've misread your comment, but I'm certainly not ashamed of being gay - I just don't like vulgar and impertinent gossip, full stop. I also fail to see what relevance my sexuality has to my work; I certainly hotly dispute the absurd idea that there's some kind of 'gay sensibility' in the arts.

Let me put it in another way. In a hundred years, do you think anyone is going to remember Carl Bernstein for his ex-wife Nora Ephron's thinly-fictionalised portrait of him as a charming but self-absorbed , adulterous man-slut? I think his role in breaking the Watergate Scandal may ring a few more bells.

Revenant said...

Sexual orientation encompasses the whole person.

And that's the real problem, there -- the obsession with finding out as much as possible about the author. There's something desperately fanboyish about the whole enterprise, as if a True Appreciation of the Master's Work requires knowing what his favorite TV shows were and where he went to high school.

Art sinks or swims on its own merits. You don't need to know anything about the creator. Indeed, it is usually best if you don't.

downtownlad said...

Oh goodie. I don't want to hear another word about Tokien and C.S. Lewis being Christians.

Obviously their religion is completely irrelevant to their work.

downtownlad said...

Or an irrational need to catalogue all and everything, pushing odd folks into groups to which they don't belong. Tim

Care to provide an example, or do you just prefer to lie.

Here's a list of LGBT people that we "claim" as one of us. Which one of them is incorrect, and please provide evidence. Because I can provide evidence for anyone on this list that they were gay or at least bi.

The real problem are with the anti-knowledge right-wingers, who fight tooth and nail to prevent any education and about gay people or gay history in our schools. And then these same, self-proclaimed know-nothings when it comes to gay history, announce themselves to be experts about who is and who isn't gay. Why the hell should we listen to them.
Anyway, here is the list of THE GAYS:

Alexander the Great
*Macedonian Ruler, 300 B.C.
Socrates
*Greek Philosopher, 400 B.C.
Sappho
*Greek Woman Poet, 600 B.C.
Hadrian
*Roman Emperor, 1st-2nd c.
Richard the Lionhearted
*English King, 12th c.
Saladin
*Sultan of Egypt and Syria
Desiderius Erasmus
*Dutch Monk, Philosopher
Francis Bacon
*English statesman, author
Frederick the Great
*King of Prussia
Lord Byron
*English poet, 18th c.
Walt Whitman
*U.S. poet, author, 19th c.
Oscar Wilde
*Irish author, 19th c.
Marcel Proust
*French author, 20th c.
Colette
*French author, 20th c.
Gertrude Stein
*U.S. poet, author, 20th c.
Alice B. Toklas
*U.S. author, 20th c.
Federico Garcia Lorca
*Spanish author, 20th c.
Cole Porter
*U.S. composer, 20th c.
Virginia Woolf
*English author, 20th c.
Leonard Bernstein
*U.S. composer, 20th c.
Pope Julius III
*1550-1555
T.E. Lawrence
*English soldier, author, 20th c.
Jean Cocteau
*French writer, director, 20th c.
Charles Laughton
*English actor, 20th c.
Marguerite Yourcenar
*Belgian author, 20th c.
Tennessee Williams
*U.S. Playwright, 20th c.
James Baldwin
*U.S. author, 20th c.
Andy Warhol
*U.S. artist, 20th c.
Michelangelo
*Italian artist, 15th c.
Leonardo Da Vinci
*Ital. Artist, scientist, 15th c.
Christopher Marlowe
*Eng. Playwright, 16th c.
Herman Melville
*U.S. author, 19th c.
Horatio Alger, Jr.
*U.S. author, 19th c.
Tchaikovsky
*Russian composer, 19th c.
Willa Cather
*U.S. author, 19th c.
Amy Lowell
*U.S. author, 19th & 20th c.
E.M. Forster
*English author, 20th c.
John M. Keynes
*English economist, 20th c.
Ludwig Wittgenstein
*Australian mathematician, 20th c.
Bessie Smith
*U.S. singer, 20th c.
Noel Coward
*English playwright, 20th c.
Christopher Isherwood
*English author, 20th c.
Pier Paolo Pasolini
*Italian film director, 20th c.
Yukio Mishima
*Japanese author, 20th c.
Eleanor Roosevelt
*U.S. stateswoman, 20th c.
Julius Caesar
*Roman Emperor, 100-44 B.C.
Augustus Caesar
*Roman Emperor
Harvey Milk
*U.S. politician, 20th c.
Bayard Rustin
*U.S. Civil Rights activist, 20th c.
James I
*English King, 16th-17th c.
Queen Anne
*English Queen, 18th c.
Marie Antoinette
*French Empress, 18th c.
Melissa Etheridge
*U.S. Rock Star, 20th c.
Pope Benedict IX
*1032-1044
May Sarton
*U.S. author, (1912 - 1995)
Edna Ferber
*U.S. author, 20th c.
Elton John
*English Rock Star, 20th c.
Margaret Fuller
*U.S. writer, educator, 20th c.
Montezuma II
*Aztec ruler, 16th c.
Peter the Great
*Russian Czar, 17th-18th c.
Langston Hughes
*U.S. author, 20th c.
Pope John XII
*955-964
Madame de Stael
*French writer, 17th-18th c.
Martina Navratilova
*U.S. tennis star, 20th c.
Greg Louganis
*U.S. Olympic swimmer, 20th c.
Billie Jean King
*U.S. tennis star, 20th c.
Roberta Achtenburg
*U.S. politician, 20th c.
Barney Frank
*U.S. Congressman, 20th c.
Gerry Studds
*U.S. Congressman, 20th c.
Hans Christian Andersen
*Danish author, 19th c.
Tom Dooley
*U.S. M.D. missionary, 20th c.
J. Edgar Hoover
*U.S. director of the FBI., 20th c.
Frida Kahlo
*Mexican artist, 20th c.
Suleiman the Magnificent
*Ottoman ruler, 15th c.
Rock Hudson
*U.S. actor, 20th c.
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz
*Mexican author, 16th c.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
*U.S. author, 19th c.
Candace Gingrich
*Gay Rights activist, 20th c.
Margarethe Cammermeyer
*U.S. Army Colonel, 20th c.
Zoe Dunning
*U.S. Military Reservist, 20th c.
Tom Waddel
*U.S. M.D., Olympic star, 20th c.
Kate Millet
*U.S. author, 20th c.
Janis Joplin
*U.S. singer, 20th c.
Rudolf Nuryev
*Russian dancer, 20th c.
Waslaw Nijinsky
*Russian dancer, 20th c.
Ernst Röhm
*German Nazi leader, 20th c.
Dag Hammerskjold
*Swedish UN Secretary, 209th c.
Aristotle
*Greek philosopher, 384-322 B.C.
Paula Gunn Allen
*Native American author, 20th c.
Angela Davis
*U.S. political activist, 20th c.
June Jordan
*U.S. author, activist, 20th c.
Rainer Maria Rilke
*German poet, 20th c.
James Dean
*U.S. actor, 20th c.
Montgomery Clift
*U.S. actor, 20th c.
Baron VonSteuben
*German General, Valley Forge
Edward II
*English King, 14th c.

Wacky Hermit said...

I sense that this is controversial because the claim is that he was GAY. How about the somewhat less prurient claim that Sir Isaac Newton and others were autistic? Why do some autism groups feel this need to claim famous people as their own, especially people who predate the clinical diagnosis of autism?

I submit that you don't have to have a department at a major university to go trolling through the history books for members of your (modern) group. It isn't about the sex, it's about the appeal to authority. If famous people have Quality X, then other people with Quality X have a connection to famous people. The implication is that the famous dead person had Quality X and he/she was a good/productive/interesting/insert-your-favorite-good-quality-here person, therefore people with Quality X can be good people. Hence the universal search for famous people to whom Quality X can be attributed.

Beth said...

Craig, how you feel about being gay isn't my interest, but your view that referring to anyone's sexuality is "tittle-tattling" does interest me. I don't know why you consider discussing an author's sexual orientation merely a matter of salaciousness or gossip, and I figure it's your own issue, not mine. I'm not going to let other people's discomforts or pronouncements about what is or isn't interesting or relevant to studying literature and the people who write it dictate to me what I think is worthy of study. That's the sum of my position.

downtownlad said...

If famous people have Quality X, then other people with Quality X have a connection to famous people.

That's not it at all. The majority of people in this country are anti-gay bigots. They think being gay is a sin, and that people who are gay are simply mentally ill and that they need to be cured. The anti-gay bigots write books on how all gay people are miserable, are failures in life, and how all gay people are going to hell.

But ultimately - they always talk about how gay people are a threat to Western Civilization.

Funny - looking at my list of "the gays", there ain't much Western Civilization left without them.

TMink said...

DTL, the majority of people who think being gay is a sin also think that looking on a woman with lust in their heart is a sin. What straight man has not done that? So what is the big deal?

If pressed, I would think many of those people would say that acting on gay attractions is a sin but having them is not. That is their belief.

If they treat you in a fair and courteous manner (and I sincerely hope that they do), what does it matter? I am not talking about the hateful people that show up at funerals, those people should be prevented from doing so and disrupting funerals with their hate and invective. I am talking about people who believe that homosexuality is a sin.

Trey

Oh, and Janis was bi. Not that it matters. Who cares who she slept with? I care about the records she made. Especially Pearl. And the list left out Dusty Springfield I think, but what was the purpose of the list anyway?

TMink said...

Elizabeth, for me, it is the speculative nature of the endeavor that is offensive. I care about what Washington Irving wrote, not who he was attracted to. If it is not in his work, I am not that interested. That is why I left English for Psychology. The actual is more interesting for me than the speculative, at least as far as artists and their work goes.

I feel the same way about people who claim Jesus would belong to a particular political party. It strikes me as vapid and missing the point. For writers, it is what they write that matters.

And without the "encompassing," we probably agree more than I thought we did. Thanks for the having the class to critique your post and listen to my rambling. You are a class act.

Trey

downtownlad said...

Twink,

You said that "people would say that acting on gay attractions is a sin but having them is not". If that's the case, then why do people get thrown out of the military for having gay attractions, even when they don't have them. Why are gays prevented from adopting children in Florida, even if they are celibate? Why do Catholics prevent gay people from becoming priests, even if they think are celibate?

And the fact is that people don't treat us in a fair and courteous manner. I don't consider it "fair" that I am discriminated against by the military in this country. I don't consider it "fair" that I am not able to marry the person I love. I don't consider it "fair" that Florida treats gay people worse than child-molesters when it comes to the law (i.e. adoption rights).

And the reason these unfair laws exist, is that the bigots try to represent gay people as dangerous deviants.

To dispel that innacurate and disgusting depection, I think the list of gay people is extremely helpful. As a psychiatrist, you must know that gay teenagers are much more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts. Who can blame them, when their parents disown them and kick them out on the streets, when they are bullied in schools, when "that's so gay" is the most common insult in schools, when there are zero positive gay role models for our gay youth. I wonder how much lower that suicide rate would be if gays were actually told about how much other gay people have contributed to society over the years?

And I said that people on the list might be bi. I'm still waiting for someone to find a falsehood in my list. I bet they can't.

downtownlad said...

And based on my experience, 99% of men who have never had a relationship with women by the time they are 40 are defintely gay. I have yet to meet someone who is asexual.

Ever wonder why here are no "bachelors" anymore? Of course the bachelors of the past were almost entirely gay! Does anyone really think otherwise???

And yes, gay peope do have a artistic sensibility. At least gay men do. Just visit their apartment and look at how they dress. I'm stereotyping of course, but we all know it's true.

Beth said...

Trey, thanks. I'll enjoy thinking of myself as a classy dame for a little while. Sage of you to mention it.

So you went from English to Psych? I went from Poli Sci/Philosophy undergrad to English grad studies because I felt that all the politics, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, economics even--all that good stuff--ends up on the pages of the stories we tell. Critical approaches are just different lenses through which to examine the stories. The story itself is prime for me, but I'm always intrigued by turning it over and inside out to find out what else it can teach me. I enjoy Frankenstein for the rollicking tale, the Romance landscape travelogues, the slippery nature of the Monster's self-awareness and lack of self-control. But it's enhanced for me when I know, for example, the history of electricy, or of automatons, and can appreciate what of her own culture's experience with technological change Shelley was drawing on. Likewise, it takes on more depth to me when I read her diary entry after the death of her second (? maybe third) child: "Found our little baby dead in its crib. I rubbed his limbs hoping to return life to them" (I'm paraphrasing; I don't have the text in front of me); or when I take into account whether she is drawing on the work of her mother, or of Rousseau, on education as she shapes Victor's development; or how the loss of her mother might have shaped her theme of absent mothers in the text...want to move on and talk about Byron? Now there's a psycho-sexual personality worth exploring in depth, with a volume of his poetry open in front of us.

downtownlad said...

What's with this talk of the authors Oscar Wilde and Tennessee Williams being gay though.

That's slanderous. A slezy attempt to malign two dignified authors.

As if being gay has anything to do with their work!

TMink said...

DTL, OK, the Twink joke is a good one! "If that's the case, then why do people get thrown out of the military for having gay attractions, even when they don't have them. Why are gays prevented from adopting children in Florida, even if they are celibate? Why do Catholics prevent gay people from becoming priests, even if they think are celibate?"

I was speaking of Christians, not the military or the State of Florida. It is my understanding that there is lots of sex, gay, straight, and otherwise in the military. The Catholic Church (not Catholics in general) refuses to ordain gay preists because their Scripture is very condemning of homosexuality.

The whole child abuse thing hurt a lot too. Now I know the difference between gay men and pedophiles, but the culture of pedophilia in some parishes helped nobody. But gay folk are currently installed as pastors and priests in many Christian denominations.

We agree about unfair treatment in the non-religious institutions you mention. I am an ologist, not an iatrist, but I am aware of the terrible suicide statistics in gay teens. It is awful. And I see your point about lists of gay folk who contributed to our culture. Point taken.

Oops, sorry I missed the bi part. For the record, I am working with a teen who identifies himself as gay and his family, who are Christians and are freaking out. I try to point out that Jesus died for their son, and gave them that son. I do not know if my advocacy for him will help them, but he appreciates it.

Not that it is any heroic endeavor on my part, far from it. But as a Christian I am called to be a loving person, to everyone. And so are they.

I just think that our common humanity outweighs our differeing attraction patterns. That while our loves may be different gender, our souls are the same. And honestly, I think I do pretty well in the artistic side for a non twink tmink, despite my hetero handicap.

www.flickr.com/photos/tmink


Trey

TMink said...

Hey Elizabeth, now you are just trying to give me a big head with two sage mentions in one year!

I just do not appreciate the criticism nearly so much as the art. Now I am not dissing criticism per se, but some of it feels over the top and parasitic to me. And the post facto sexual speculation strikes me as both.

I mean I appreciate the thematic material in art, and love a well turned phrase, but someone else writing about it just does not take me anywhere. I think I am too critical about the arts. My mother, God bless her, had two categories: worth a hoot and not worth a hoot. The latter was the larger of the two. In most of my life I am a warm and accepting person, but I am a real bitch when it comes to art! I think my bullshit detector is set a bit too high in that regard.

So for me, it always comes back to why should I read about Melville or Wilde (hat tip to DTL) when I can read Melville or Wilde? Reading this and your post, I think it is a good thing I switched educational tracks!

Thanks for the conversation.

Trey

Hey said...

DTL you useless old queen.

No one cares about your issues and if you had a point it was the worst made point ever on althouse, which is saying something.

I do love that your list of people without whom Western Civilisation would fall includes Candace Gingrich, Gay Rights activist;
Margarethe Cammermeyer, U.S. Army Colonel; Zoe Dunning, U.S. Military Reservist.

My god, a gay activist was gay, as were 2 anonymous soldiers. Without them the West would have surely fallen. And Suleiman and Saladin as well.

Do you even speak English? Are you aware of the meaning of the words you use?

Truly you are nothing more than a flighty, ignorant fairy. I trust you love these stereotypes as much as the ones you use yourself. Now go learn english, rhetoric, and logic, so that you can do more than fling feces and annoy the regulars.

Beth said...

Love that poo-flinging reference, hey. Project much?

Beth said...

I've been much more active on this blog today than I usually am. I enjoyed this thread, despite all the reasons I could conjure not to. Part of my inspiration today was that I had to complete a SWOT analysis and IE plan for my academic division. There is nothing more useless and boring on God's beautiful earth, and nothing more rabidly sought after by university administrators, who sign my paycheck. Talking about literature, in however circular a manner, is a great way to avoid having to devise goals and strategies in barely recognizable English prose, all neatly arranged in deeply nested outlines. Gack!

If you don't know what a SWOT is, don't bother googling it. You'll never get back that minute of your life.

Revenant said...

Oh goodie. I don't want to hear another word about Tokien and C.S. Lewis being Christians. Obviously their religion is completely irrelevant to their work.

It is completely irrelevant to the enjoyment of their work -- for which I, as an atheist fantasy/sci-fi geek, am sincerely grateful.

But in any case, CS Lewis wrote on religious issues. Washington Irving didn't write about sex. If we were talking about Oscar Wilde, then maybe you could make a solid case that his sexuality might matter. :)

Revenant said...

DTL,

While Julius Caesar, Augustus, and the other Romans leaders you cite arguably belong on a list of *pederasts*, there is no evidence that they were homosexual. They all fathered children in AND out of marriage, something they could easily have avoided doing if women didn't appeal to them sexually.

The Roman attitude toward sex was much like that of the American male prison system -- you screw men when that's all you can get, but women when they're available.

I'd also point out that your "one drop" approach to who counts as homosexual is pretty dippy considering that if you applied the rule in reverse hardly ANYONE would count as gay -- most gay men and women have had sexual relations with the opposite gender at some point.

Revenant said...

And based on my experience, 99% of men who have never had a relationship with women by the time they are 40 are defintely gay.

16.5% of 40-year-old men have never married. That's three to five times the percentage of the population that is gay. That percentage also varied wildly from decade to decade, which means that either (a) homosexuals are made, not born or (b) sexual orientation isn't a major factor here.

Ever wonder why here are no "bachelors" anymore?

Given that I *am* a bachelor? No.

And considering that most of the people on your list of "famous gay people" were, in fact, married at least once, it is fairly obvious that there was no particular relationship between being gay and being single.

Palladian said...

It's a mistake to attach the modern notion of "gay" onto historical figures. Though sexual and emotional relationships between people of the same sex has been with humanity forever, "gay" didn't exist as a concept before the 20th century. I tend to distrust "gay" as yet another vestige of tribalism, and prefer to think of homosexuality as an integral part of human sexuality rather than a walled-off sub-group of it. I tend not to like books that project modern ideas onto people long dead, especially when such things seem to be built upon circumstantial evidence. But I also read the media's distillations of biographies with skepticism. What may be a subtle and inconclusive investigation of the sexual and emotional life of a historical figure is often dumbed down into "WASHINGTON IRVING: 'FABULOUS' WRITER?"

And by the way, it's threads like this where I'm reminded why I love Beth.

TMink said...

Hey, that was really a lousy post. It was juvenile, inflamatory, rude, and hypocritical. Take it somewhere else, we try to have reasonable discussions here. That type of drivel is not appreciated. If you can contribute a more mature and coherent post, go right ahead. Otherwise, find somewhere else.

Trey

Robert said...

Part of this reminded me of the caveat a professor gave us at the start of a seminar on Heian-era Japan - "The past is a foreign country; the people who live there are different. Don't forget that."

That said, the usual justification I've heard for the 'let us now claim famous men' shtik is that 'anti-gay bigots' (however you define the term) often allege that homosexuality as a social phenomenon is either a) a recent development, b) a sign of decadence in society, or c) both.

To be able to point to a list of historical figures who accomplished noteworthy or praiseworthy things and say "They were homosexuals - care to claim that they were therefore human detritus?" is the goal.

This strikes me as being as futile a gesture as the annual February parade of Black inventors, writers, military and political leaders, etc. It may inspire children who lack visible or salutary role models, but nobody who doesn't already think Benjamin Banneker was great is going to be convinced.

Craig Ranapia said...

Beth wrote:
Craig, how you feel about being gay isn't my interest, but your view that referring to anyone's sexuality is "tittle-tattling" does interest me. I don't know why you consider discussing an author's sexual orientation merely a matter of salaciousness or gossip, and I figure it's your own issue, not mine. I'm not going to let other people's discomforts or pronouncements about what is or isn't interesting or relevant to studying literature and the people who write it dictate to me what I think is worthy of study. That's the sum of my position.

And you're entitled to it, though it would be nice if the condescension was put on hold for a bit. Do I really give a rat's rear end whether Virginia Woolf ever got it on with any of the lesbians in her social set, or whether she and her husband had a sex life that would meet the approval of Dr. Phil or the readers of Penthouse? Not really. An enormous amount of ink has been expended on Henry James' sexuality - was he hetero, homo, bi, asexual/neture, any or all of the above but celibate, sublimate all his sexual energy into his work etc. Personally, I think that's the least interesting question to ask about the work of two great writers, but if that's what you're interested in... whatever. Exercise your First Amendment rights however you see fit.

Personally, I don't think there's any real evidence either way and (as so often happens in biography), the speculation says much more about the writer, and the intellectual fashions of the day, than the ostensible subject whose virtual linens are being sniffed for bodily fluids. Like Gore Vidal (who happens to be bisexual, don't ya know), I find it rather sad that a suitably salacious biography of a writer is likely to sell better than any of his or her novels in out tabloid, crotch-sniffing culture. I guess we just have to agree to disagree on whether that's a good thing.

downtownlad said...

It's funny, Craig is implying it's irrelevant whether various famous people were gay or not, or who they slept with.

Yet somehow, who I am sleeping with, is of utmost importance to Craig. Because who I'm sleeping with determines whether or not I can serve in the military, who I'm sleeping with determines whether or not I can adopt.

Sorry - but you can't have it both ways. If being gay is no big deal, then stop passing discriminatory laws based on my sexual orientation.

Craig Ranapia said...

DTL:

First, I'm not 'implying' anything, but baldly saying it.

Second, exactly what laws have I passed? I'm not a legislature - or even a member of one.

And before the swirly vortex twists your head off:
* I've always opposed don't ask, don't tell.
* Didn't support DOMA, either.
* Though a federal marriage ammendment was a bad call - as marriage should be a state issue, and if I had anything to do with it all fifty states would offer full marriage equality. No ifs, no buts, no maybe.
* And as far as children go, any stable couple who passes rigorous background checks and can provide a stable, loving and secure home to children who desperately need it should be encouraged regardless of sexual orientation. God knows there aren't enough of you out these - especially for non-white kids with disabilities. They need parents most desperately, and are the least likely to get them.

Now, there's a good rule for biographers you should also follow: Don't make shit up.

Uncle Mikey said...

From James Burke's "The Knowledge Web," a passage about Washington Allston, the "most completely Romantic American painter" who Washington Irving meets and later writes:

I do not think I have ever been more completely captivated on a first acquaintance. He was of a light and graceful form, with large blue eyes, and black silken hair waving and curling around a pale, expressive countenance. A young man's intimacy took place immediately between us, and we were much together during my brief sojourn at Rome.

I just happened to read this yesterday and remembered giggling about "young man's intimacy," but I can't muster any give-a-crap about Irving being gay or not, for all I know that's just really gay-sounding straight guy talk. I do trust that Burke got it right on the quote, he's the "Connections" guy and is righteous like that. It's a good book, too.

Revenant said...

Second, exactly what laws have I passed?

Laddy boy tends to think that everyone who disagrees with him about anything is a vicious homophobe.

I wouldn't waste your time worrying about *why* he thinks it, if I were you. There's probably some banal psychological reason for it all.

Beth said...

virtual linens are being sniffed for bodily fluids...crotch-sniffing culture.

What were you saying about condescension, Craig?

Craig Ranapia said...

Beth:

If Western Civ. - or every tenured Queer Stud. professor out there - wants to call and demand an apology, we'll see. If you want to try and get into some condescending snit about how I was trying to tell you what to read, and what people can and cannot write about - which is nonsense on both counts -, I'll call you on it. Don't really care either way.