The rise of gaylib began in the 19th c, as capitalism took hold of western society and began to shape behavior and society to the needs of the new order, based on money and profit as the dominant determinants of change.
The best known homosexual writer that emerged at this period was the American poet Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892), who idealized male-male relations, but in a way that has made him appealing not just to gays but to heterosexuals as well. He was a pacifist during the civil war and devoted himself to providing comfort to dying troops, some of whom bonded with him as a kind of soul mate and allowed him physical intimacy, primarily a tender kiss to ease their loneliness and pain. His ethic is primarily comradery rather than public display of homosexuality and cross-dressing.
The most famous scientist who promoted homosexual freedom was Magnus Hirschfield who founded Berlin’s Institute for Sexual Science (1919–1933). Meanwhile, the new gay culture was percolating, with many writers, especially British and French, writing novels which are now considered gay classics, though they didn’t openly describe homosexual characters, but rather depicted a new more open sexual ethic. The British Bloomsbury Group includes Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey, all of whom were gay. EM Forster (1879-1970) was the most famous.
Christopher Isherwood (Berlin Stories (1945) later made into the film Cabaret) took advantage of Germany’s economic crisis in the 1920s–1930s to live in Berlin, attracting destitute youth for his pleasure. But there were no ‘gay’ blockbuster novels to emerge from the new sexual libertinism.
Andre Gide (1869–1951) is the best European writer of the period. He wrote a notable essay on homosexuality Corydon (1924) for which he was loudly condemned, though he avoided being slotted as homosexual. At the same time as the scandal over Corydon emerged, he married and had a child.
A scholarly work of literary criticism, it argues that homosexuality is not unnatural, and that it pervaded the most culturally and artistically advanced civilizations such as Periclean Greece, Renaissance Italy and Elizabethan England. He dismisses exclusive heterosexuality, which he believes is merely a union constructed by society. His novel Les faux-monnayeurs (The Counterfeiters, 1925) is still read, considered an honest treatment of homosexuality and the collapse of morality in middle-class France at the time.
Gide was an ardent supporter of communist Russia and wrote dozens of novels and political works spanning a remarkable range. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948 “for his comprehensive and artistically significant writings, in which human problems and conditions have been presented with a fearless love of truth and keen psychological insight.”
WWII ended up encouraging the new gay ethic—millions of men fighting and dying even before most had achieved sexual maturity and the possibility of experiencing normal sexual relations. Understandably, many indulged in homosexual behavior. Though the vast majority did so only as a temporary release, the post-war period resounded with a new tradition of male-male relations. This gave courage to Alfred Kinsey who undertook surveys and made extensive interviews with homosexuals in the US starting in 1948, publishing Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1965.
Hitler’s persecution of Jews and gays also led these two groups to bond to assert their rights. From the beginning, Jews were at the forefront of gay rights. Jews had their legal rights in the West already (though there was some prejudice), but it took another two decades for homosexual rights to be achieved.
Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigation of homosexuals holding government jobs during the early 1950s was important in providing sympathy for homosexuals wrongly persecuted. In the cynical atmosphere of the Cold War and disappointed with the attempt to return society to the repressive prewar standards, a new group of writers, now including many Americans, were able to publish their more openly gay prose.
Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar (1948) was the first homosexual novel published in the US. He had to write under a pseudonym for six years until tempers cooled. He thought that men and women potentially are pansexual, rejecting the adjectives “homosexual” and “heterosexual” when used as nouns, as inherently false terms used to classify and control people in society.
Like Gide, Vidal avoided being slotted as a gay writer, becoming more famous as a popular historian, political commentator and anti-war critic. In his memoirs, he concludes that friendship, not long term sexual relations is the best option to sustain meaningful relations, with lovers merely for sex on the side.
In the galylib era, Holleran, Hollinghurst and others posit gay romance in imitation of straight romance, but not convincingly. There are no important ‘gay’ novels to compare with Vidal’s (unrequited love), or Gide’s.
Holleran’s best work, and arguably the best gay novel written in recent times is Dancer from the Dance (1978), and follows Vidal’s and Gide’s pessimism about the possibility of a homosexual romance. Both the main characters commit suicide (one OD’ing, the other disappearing into the Atlantic), neither having had a successful homosexual relationship.
The queen character, Sutherland, and a young friend discuss this. The friend comments: I don’t think two men can love each other … in that way. It will always be a sterile union, it will always be associated with guilt. Sometimes I think that God was sitting up above the world one day, after He had created it and someone said ‘Now what could we throw in to spoil it? You’ve created such a perfect existence, how could it go amuck?’ someone said, ‘Confuse the sexes, Have the men desire men instead of women, and the women desire women.’ Life would be marvelous if we weren’t homosexual. To grow up, to fall in love, to have children, grow old and die. But then God threw in that monkey wrench. As if out of sheer mischief!
Sutherland protests cynically: No. Gays could have that marital bliss, but are afraid, cynical pessimistic, self-loathing. Love bids them follow and they say no, I’d rather spend my evenings in the men’s room at Grand Central.
Both characters have 1000s of tricks over the course of the novel, hating themselves for it, but unable to stop.
The beautiful sexy gay character, Malone, comments: “How easy it must be, to come out in the evening to call your dog, to walk home with the wife’s arm in yours.” But this vision of domestic bliss was beyond his reach. He cried and was shocked that gay people “secrete everything in each other’s presence but tears. They come on each other, they piss on each other, or shit, but never tears. The only sign of tenderness they never secrete in each other’s presence.
In a plea for celibacy, Malone realized he had ceased to be a homosexual, so much as he had become a pederast. “Now he recognized a young man’s beauty was just that—a fact: his beauty—and that he could not worship it, possess it, consume it, digest it … handsome as a myth on the plain of Troy, an impersonal fact, as impersonal as the beauty of a tree. He watched boys playing soccer and when the game ended he rose and walked away, a calm spirit.
Holleran’s work is really more an anti-gay novel. He hardly even uses the term ‘gay’, though it had been spread around the world as a noun by 1950s–rather he used homosexual and queen, essentially denying ‘gay’ culture to include quasi-straights who reject the effeminate gays, not identify with them. Though it is full of obscenities, the work could almost be used by the Catholic church to undermine gaylib. It is very depressing; the loneliness and deformity of the characters overwhelms the reader. The reader could easily conclude from the confessions of Sutherland and Malone that only solution is inner peace achieved through celibacy.
Where is the great gay novel with a happy ending? Perhaps the best is Forster’s Maurice, written in 1913–1914, and revised in 1932 and 1959–1960, published only after Forster’s death in 1971. It was based on the relationship between the socialist/ spiritualist poet Edward Carpenter, and his partner, George Merrill, and Forster himself was ambivalent about it: “Publishable, but worth it?” Gaylib’s insistence on a happy ending represents the refusal to make the best the gay myth—a bittersweet “short story—of youth and chance and public toilets and then the long half-life of irony and discretion.”
The new movement culminated for gays in the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York, where gays led by defiant crossdressers took the media by storm and inspired the creation of support groups, first in New York, San Francisco and European capitals, where gays were an outsized minority, as rural gays flocked to these centers to lead more open lives. The primary goal was civil rights, and when Martin Luther King achieved this for blacks in the late 1960s, basic civil rights (for fair treatment in mental health, public policy, and employment) followed for homosexuals.
Liberal protestant churches such as United Church allowed gay ministers in 1972. In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as an “illness” classification in its diagnostic manuals. Openly gay politicians were elected starting in the 1970s. Civil unions and gay marriage starting in the 1990s (though marriage is still accepted only in 38 states).
A new culture for the West was in the making. But what is the new culture? Relying on the large gay ghettos in these cities, in the first place it was defined by unrestricted public sex (not only alleys but bathhouses and bars). By the 1980s, the orgy began to look ominous for society. HIV/AIDS, a fearsome virus with no cure, swept American and Europe, killing 100,000s, and then migrated to Africa and the entire world primarily through sexual contact—initially homosexual but as the virus spread, it increasingly affected heterosexuals as well.
The Public Library of Science’s Medicine journal estimates it now accounts for about 2.8 million deaths every year. The World Health Organization estimates that at a total of least 117 million people will die from AIDS from 2006 to 2030. Currently ranked fourth behind heart disease, stroke, and respiratory infections, AIDS is set to become No. 3, say researchers in a new report
Though this horrendous medical situation was a direct result of the new promiscuity, few have pointed the finger at the gay movement. Given their new civil rights, it is considered homophobia to attack homosexuals. Besides, the damage was done. Only Muslims (and ironically Holleran) defiantly assert that homosexuality is a sin and should be proscribed.
The response in the West was to work on a cure, which for the most part has been found for severe sufferers, allowing them to survive (though weakened), to comfort them (‘don’t feel guilty, just get on with your life), and to promote ‘safe sex’, which means condoms during all sexual activity. Not a word about celibacy for homosexuals, the Muslim ‘cure’.
A ‘rational’ response to AIDS
Clearly homosexuality is a loose cannon and needed some kind of social control. And literature has provided little guidance, rather jumping on the self-righteous promiscuity of the gay movement (using condoms).
Hence, the new movement for gay marriage, which promotes monogamy, effectively undoing the short-lived spree of promiscuity as an acceptable way of living (and avoiding the idea of celibacy), and returning to an updated version of the traditional social ethic of the pre-Stonewall Christian era.
We are all secularist now, no need for religion as a guiding force, proscribing sinful activity. Instead, we rationally control our behavior, based on scientific principles. There is no sin in homosexual behavior, only poor management.
Just how all this will pan out is not clear. Again, gay culture is not helpful. Male friendships traditional have been a kind of marriage but without the sex. They are much safer, and long-lasting. Gay marriages are, let’s face it, unnatural, boring, shades of 1950s suburbia. Evidence shows that after a few years, most gay marriages are sexless. You aren’t having sex to reproduce, but merely for sensual pleasure.
Yes, you can adopt children, even use your sperm to artificially impregnate a poor Malaysian woman who will ship her child to you for your consumption. But this hardly looks fair. And what are the implications for children growing up in such a sterile environment, without the natural role models of a female mother and male father? What is left of the mystery, the sacrament of male-female sexuality, which developed over 10,000 years as human society evolved?
Advocates of gay marriages see homosexuality as a carbon copy of straight life. But being ‘gay’ means something very different, a subversive nature, the result of some kind of ‘blessure’ during childhood and adolescence. The tendency to promiscuity and the difficulty in establishing a permanent relationship shows this.
Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997), the most celebrated American poet of gaydom, left an unsettling legacy after a lifetime of unending promiscuity. “Looks like I’ll masturbate as the main erotic completion till my deathbed.” All his life he had looked for lovers, and although he’d found temporary partners, he had found “none at liberty for a lifetime,” believing that “by age forty or certainly sixty,” this part of his life would be well settled and he would have a love partner. Now came the realization that he’d never find one person to share his life with, and the finality of that statement surprised him.
As he reflected on his life, he regretted that he had hung on to his naive sexual fantasies for as long as he had. The young boys he repeatedly fell in love with always grew older, and were always basically heterosexual, too. Not much to build a long-term sexual relationship on. Like Gore Vidal, he settled into a nonsexual relationship with Peter that was a different kind of love and companionship.