The Daily Beast has the text of a speech recently given at Yale by Larry Kramer.
Generally, I like Kramer – and his style. And this speech, detailing some heavily entrenched, institutional homophobia at Yale falls in nicely…
Kramer begins to play the dichotomy game – regarding what is and is not ‘gay history,’ and what should and should not be taught under the heading of ‘gay history.’
There were and are 22 courses offered in the Pink Book of LGBT studies for this year. Only one of them, the course George Chauncey teaches entitled U.S. Lesbian and Gay History, is a gay history course. Here are the others:
•Gender and Sexuality in Popular Music
•Critical Ethnography: Methods, Ethics, Poetics
•Cross-Cultural Narratives of Desire
•Sex and Romance in Adolescence
•Biology of Gender and Sexuality
•Anthropology of Sex and Sexualities
•Beauty, Fashion, and Self-styling
•Gendering Musical Performance
•Gender Images: A Psychological Perspective
•Gender, Nation, and Sexuality in Modern Latin America
•Music and Queer Identies
The word “queer” also embellishes most of the activities and lectures and fellowships and appointments announced in those various emails. It seems as if everything is queer this and queer that.
Just as a point of information, I would like to proclaim with great pride: I am not queer! And neither are you. When will we stop using this adolescent and demeaning word to identify ourselves? Like our history that is not taught, using this word will continue to guarantee that we are not taken seriously in the world.
Here are some of the things that I have uncovered about our history in writing my new book, The American People:
That Jamestown was America’s first community of homosexuals, men who came to not only live with each other as partners but to adopt and raise children bought from the Indians. Some even arranged wedding ceremonies for themselves.
That George Washington was gay, and that his relationships with Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette were homosexual. And that his feelings for Hamilton led to a government and a country that became Hamiltonian rather than Jeffersonian.
That Meriwether Lewis was in love with William Clark and committed suicide when their historic journey was over and he wouldn’t see Clark anymore.
That Abraham Lincoln was gay and had many, many gay interactions, that his nervous breakdown occurred when he and his lover, Joshua Speed, were forced to part, and that his sensitivity to the slaves came from his firsthand knowledge of what it meant to be so very different. And that the possibility exists that Lincoln was murdered because he was gay and John Wilkes Booth, who was gay, knew this.
That Franklin Pierce, who became one of America’s worst presidents, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, who became one of our greatest writers, as roommates at Bowdoin College had interactions that changed them both forever and, indeed, served as the wellspring for what Hawthorne came to write about. Pierce was gay. And Hawthorne? Herman Melville certainly wanted him to be.
That most of the great actresses who endlessly toured America during the 19th century bringing theater to the masses were lesbians and occasionally dressed as men. Just like Katherine Hepburn.
That the plague of AIDS was allowed to happen because much of the world hates us and most of the world knows nothing about us. They don’t know we are related to Washington and Lincoln.
I needed no queer theories, no gender studies, to figure all this out.
Why can’t we accept that homosexuality has been pretty much the same since the beginning of human history, whether it was called homosexuality, sodomy, buggery, hushmarkedry, or hundreds of other things, or had no name at all?
Ah yes…George Chauncey – the same George Chauncey who managed to write a 300+ page book on Gay New York, which:
- dealt quite a bit with Harlem drag balls;
- contained the occasional mention of the concept of men becoming women; and
- even mentioned Rae Bourbon, who produced and marketed many 1950s ‘party records’ of his drag act in which he portrayed himself as having undergone sex reassignment surgery (“Let me Tell You About my Operation” and “One Night in Copenhagen”)
yet, somehow, is devoid of ‘transsexual’ and even of trans-anything as any substantive element.
Kinda like Kramer listing:
That most of the great actresses who endlessly toured America during the 19th century bringing theater to the masses were lesbians and occasionally dressed as men. Just like Katherine Hepburn
yet in the same breath bitching about gender-everything?
Kramer is complaining about erasure of homosexuality – but he’s playing the erasure game as to, well, everything that would not explicitly fit into Connecticut’s statutory definition of “sexual orientation”
“sexual orientation” means having a preference for heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality, having a history of such preference or being identified with such preference….
If Katherine Hepburn had to seek redress for discrimination based on dressing like a man, I suspect that she (1) could find a lawyer willing to take he case; (2) afford to pay said lawyer; and (3) feel confident that said lawyer might know about the administrative law decision in Connecticut that allegedly prohibits discrimination based on some aspects of trans-whatever.
Katherine Smith f/k/a Kenneth Smith (whoever that might be), however?
I’ve never attended Yale, nor taught there – and if Kramer’s attitute was to take hold there, I can imagine that neither of those facts will change.
To be fair, I share a disdain for much of what is pumped out as ‘theory’ – and not just GLB and/or T. Mush of what is foisted on us in my history Ph.D. program as ‘theory’ is pure bullshit – and that’s not a left-right or gay-straight or gay-trans sentiment. It doesn’t matter what the inclination is; bullshit is bullshit whether it comes from a diarrhea-mouthed apologist for Newt Gingrich or a speed-addled spewer of the most nonsensical of theoretical genderqueer legal nonsense (NOTE: I don’t consider genderqueer stuff to be nonsensical per se, but some people who are being passed off as the 21st Century god-neuter legal saviors of trans-everybody are as full of shit as Dr. Manhattan is of tachyons.)
Theory tends to allow those privileged with their PhUDs (or other terminal degrees) – and accompanying academic positions – to suck all of the air out of discussions with anti-substance. Something that is 95% theory and 5% history (or law or whatever) is 100% shit.
And, in that sense, gay history and trans history are equally afflicted.
I teach a course on trans history. Sometimes it is in the History Department. Sometimes it is in the Sexuality Studies Department. I think it will soon be in the Women’s Studies Department.
Those are labels.
The substance is what I teach – and it is substance. If someone begins my course with a propensity for masturbating to Foucault’s History of Sexuality, my course, by itself, probably won’t stop the person from doing it – but, I doubt that anyone will ever begin to start getting orgasmic at the mention of ‘theory’ as a result of my class.
Then again, I don’t tell them that they have to think according to the precepts of any particular PhUD-esque theory-monger. I do, however, tell them about certain aspects of history – things that they’re probably not going to run across in what would appear to be The Acceptable Gay History According to Larry Kramer.
I tell them about how laws manufactured by well-heeled, well-monied gay men and women would leave people who fit Kramer’s vision of Kate Hepburn out in the cold.
I tell them that Iowa’s Varnum v. Brien was not only not the first instance of Iowa being at the forefront of civil rights, but not even the first instance of Iowa being at the forefront of LGBT civil rights – and, of course, I mention that, more specifically, it was th T that marched forward first. You know (or, more likely, you don’t know), things like:
- Gay marriage came to Iowa in 2009, but while there was another judicial attempt at gay marriage in Iowa 33 years earlier – one which failed miserably – transsexuals were obtaining the approval of the Iowa legislature (you know – or probably don’t – that parenthetical in the Varnum opinion about suanging sex on birth certificates? that became law while Iowa’s sodomy law was still active);
- That the above occured one year before an attempt at gay marriage failed miserably in California – which ocurred while transsexuals were obtaining the approval of the Iowa legislature; and
- That though, in 2005, California couldn’t muster a first-degree murder conviction of a gang of thugs who murdered a trans woman, Iowa managed to obtain a first-degree murder conviction for the killer of a transsexual woman in 1977.
That’s a fact.
So is the default legal definition of “sexual orientation,”such as Connecticut’s.
Do you know that men loving men does not require the sexual act to qualify them as homosexuals? My American Heritage unabridged dictionary lists two definitions for homosexuality: the first: “sexual orientation to persons of the same sex; and the second: “sexual activity with another of the same sex.” In other words, it is not necessary, nor should it be, to have had sex with another of the same sex, to maintain that a person is homosexual. Why, then, do academics, indeed everyone, insist on this second definition over the first? This theory makes it all but impossible in many cases to claim a person as one of us.
Again – go back to that accepted, default legal definition of “sexual orientation.”
Go back to that, and try to fit in Katherine Hepburn.
In addition to trans victories, I teach the stories of how certain gays and lesbians rigged the law to benefit themselves – and to leave out people such as myself.
That’s a fact.
What’s Larry Kramer?
I thought I knew.