GLR September-October 2022

Autumn Comes: ‘Queens and Kings’ FROM THE EDITOR

T HE THEME of this issue comes with a caveat. I think it’s still okay to refer to a certain kind of gay male as a “queen,” while the term “drag king” appears to be gain ing ground. In any case, what these articles share is a focus on historical figures who made a career out of flouting the pre vailing gender norms—and becoming famous doing so. This may also be a time when the word “queer” can be of use. Someone like John Randolph (1773–1833), a U.S. Con gressman from Virginia for whom the term “flamboyant” was invented, was undoubtedly queer in the old sense of peculiar , regardless of what he did in bed. At any rate, as described here by William Benemann, he sure wasn’t “straight” by any defi nition. And while his strangeness was widely commented upon, he kept getting re-elected and became a leader in Congress. Randolph lived at a time when the vocabulary simply did n’t exist to discuss such matters. That would change later in the 19th century thanks to a cadre of German psychologists, cul minating in the work of Magnus Hirschfeld. As Finn Ballard explains here, Hirschfeld’s greatest achievement was founding the Institute of Sexual Science, in Berlin, in 1919. This was a time when homosexuality was understood as a form of gender “inversion,” and while Hirschfeld did much to separate sexual orientation from gender, he regarded some cases as “interme diate sexual types” and recommended gender reassignment, in cluding surgery, for these individuals. Correspondence

Weimar Berlin also produced an exuberant cabaret culture, notably a singer named Paul O’Montis, who was a sensation of both the stage and the silent screen. His personal style, as re flected in caricatures of the day, would seem to justify the “queen” epithet, but Laurence Senelick is mostly struck by the campy lyrics of his songs, which are filled with racy double en tendres and make sly references to same-sex cruising and gen der-bending people on the town. Another star of silent movies, as well as the talkies, was Greta Garbo, who could be called a “drag king” in that she wore men’s clothing in a number of her films. In Queen Christina , as Irene Javors elaborates, the surface plot is conventional—a queen looking for a suitable consort—yet Garbo spends most of the film in masculine garb strutting across the screen, swilling beer, and flirting with other women. At last we come to Truman Capote, whose most famous books— Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood —aren’t espe cially gay in content. It was his ubiquitous presence on TV talk shows that brought a truly queer persona intoAmerica’s homes. Andrew Holleran discusses how Capote parlayed his fame into the life of a socialite, partying with NewYork’s society ladies— his “swans”—who seem to have kept him around mostly as a conversation piece. He got his revenge, kind of, with the posthu mous publication of his tell-all novel Answered Prayers . R ICHARD S CHNEIDER J R .

archy—and if we can’t remember, then invent . One other thing: Rosario states that the Two Spirit We’wha “convinced” Grover Cleveland to replace a Mexican Indian agent at Zuni. There was never a Mexican Indian agent at Zuni, and We’wha only spoke rudimentary English. According to a newspaper account, “Her [ sic ] conversa tion with the President was mainly in monosyllables, but Mrs. Stevenson [We’wha’s host] and the President had quite an interesting talk.” One of the best antidotes to the romanticization, I should think, is attention to detail. Will Roscoe, San Francisco When Sailors Were Polled To the Editor: Browsing through the July-August issue of the G&LR on “The Lure of the Sea” with its range of engaging articles, I was drawn to my copy of a work by Steven Zeeland, Sailors and Sexual Identity . Working on the book in the 1990s, the au thor met with over 200 sailors and Marines, mostly in southern California

around the naval bases in San Diego. Con ducting taped interviews with thirty, he winnowed them down to thirteen who spoke candidly about their sexual experiences. Not surprisingly, Zeeland found that men from both branches—mostly young recruits—were “sexually adventuresome, making it hard to distinguish between straights and gays.” Profiles of these men include mischievous distinctions. Marines were characterized as tougher, more com pactly built, often “bottoms,” with sharper haircuts, while sailors were seen as softer, more respected at the “top” of the chain— they were the majority of those the author interviewed. U.S. naval initiation rituals, and those performed when crossing the Equator, fea tured cross-dressing, spanking, simulated oral and anal sex, or penetration with vari ous objects. While U.S. military service policies have been tightened to preclude many of these activities today, some such behavior still exists. Zeeland’s subjects varied in how much they wanted to reveal, protecting their

Mythical Sources of the Radical Faeries To the Editor: Did Harry Hay romanticize and appro priate Native culture and spirituality when he helped start the Radical Faeries, as sug gested in Vernon Rosario’s review of Gre gory Smithers’ Reclaiming Two-Spirits in the July-August 2022 issue? He certainly did consider nonbinary Native Americans remarkable examples of how queer people could make valuable contributions to their communities when they were allowed to live authentic lives. A vibrant movement of Two Spirit people today clearly agrees with him. But in my years of observation, I never heard Harry propose that the Faeries adopt a practice because it was “Native American.” I’ve reached out to other old Faeries who were present at the first gatherings, and they agree. Harry looked to Western tradi tions and folklore—to faeries , in fact, who were pre-Christian figures in Old Europe. His exhortation (paraphrasing Monique Wittig) was that we must re member who we were before patri

The G & LR ➙


Made with FlippingBook. PDF to flipbook with ease