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What would bigots do if they knew…?

So, I haven’t written in a while (sadly), but that’s what this is for. Yesterday, while researching the great Belgian surrealist René Magritte, I happened to find this fascinating blog called Sexuality & Love in the Arts, topics to which Pussy Goes Grrr is certainly no stranger. And I ended up reading their article on Alan Turing, the brilliant British cryptographer, mathematician, and pioneering computer scientist who was legally persecuted (after helping win WWII) until he committed suicide. Why, you may ask, would a great genius like Turing be chemically castrated, tormented, and hounded? Because of what the authorities called “gross indecency”… he was a homosexual.

Long-suffering genius Alan Turing

So, reading about Gordon Brown’s recent apology for Turing’s rather shabby treatment by the government, I was reminded of an idea I had the other day. Because, okay, homophobia is alive and well and living in America, as evidenced by this video of Carrie Prejean, the ditzy beauty queen whose po’ widdle ego was demolished by contest judge Perez Hilton after she said “You know what, in my country, in my family, I think I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there…” and some other similarly halting statements. And now apparently she’s a horribly persecuted, God-loving inspiration to us all who’ll get her rewards in heaven!! at least according to her.

And so, between that and reading about Turing, I thought about this: lots & lots of people (hell, even the majority of California voters) don’t want gay people marrying each other. And they’d also prefer if they’d take their homosexual selves, get back in the closet, and let the children go on thinking heterosexual is the only kind of desire. (Honestly, people act like attraction to the same sex is automatically graphically sexual, while attraction to the opposite sex is, by default, clean and pure. ‘Cause men never lust after women, right? And so exposing kids to the notion of gayness is sucking away their innocence. But that’s another blog.) So it got me to thinking, people are OK with letting queer artists provide them with great entertainment and profundity, but if they have to know that Rock Hudson’s sleeping with men on his off-days, they’d rather he was prosecuted for it? Because let’s face it: queerness and art have gone together pretty well for, oh, all of human history. And I wanted to take a look at some examples. Hence, this is the “what would gay-hating bigots do if they knew…” list.

First, a few caveats: I’m going by a pretty loose definition of queer here. If I’ve been witness to some form of evidence that a historical figure was queer, I’ll include them for argument’s sake, but by no means is this academically rigorous. It’s a thought experiment. Also, there’s going to be a lot more gay men on this list than lesbians because, well, men are better-represented historically in everything than women. When you narrow it down to women attracted to other women, the representation gets even tinier. That said, here’s my list! What would gay-hating bigots do if they knew a gay person was crucial in creating:

Western philosophy, Hellenistic civilization, the Sistine Chapel, the Mona Lisa, My Ántonia, Leaves of Grass, A Shropshire Lad, The Importance of Being Earnest, much of literary modernism (Stein, Woolf, and H.D. for starters), Remembrance of Things Past, Valentino, The Battleship Potemkin, Bride of Frankenstein, Blithe Spirit, Gaslight, computers (going liberally with Turing), Jean Cocteau himself, Night of the Hunter, Screaming Popes, Beat poetry, pop art and the phrase “15 minutes of fame,” Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, The Leopard, American absurdist theater, if…, Harold and Maude, Cabaret, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and then starting in the ’70s-’80s, too many advancements in the arts and elsewhere to name as the LGBT community became more legal, visible, and able to express themselves – I’ll just toss out Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home as one particularly sublime example.

Now, I grant there are a lot of flaws with this list and its reasoning, and I admit that most of the examples come from film, because queer filmmakers are one of my great areas of interest. But I was mainly trying to make a point: if intolerant people think they can dismiss all gay men & women as being icky, unnatural, somehow poisonous, undeserving of rights or public exposure, or evil/impure on some basic level, maybe they should look around their culture and realize that often what they consider wholesome, unobjectionable art (like one case in point I discovered tonight) is actually made by (gasp!) the very “perverts” and “deviants” they’re dead-set against. I think homophobia requires much of the same solipsistic blocking out of the real world as racism – “No, no, no, I’m not listening; you will not be a counterexample to my passed-down belief that all gays/blacks/etc. are unworthy degenerates…”

Gustave Courbet's The Sleepers, 1866

They’re often similarly ignorant of the fact that homoeroticism turns up all over place – for an obvious example, in The Picture of Dorian Gray – because, oh, it’s a pretty common, basic element of human sexuality and hell, I’d even say a universal part of the human experience (I mean, honestly, who hasn’t had at least a fleeting, vaguely homoerotic thought or two in their whole life?). These people act like by constructing thick moral walls we can erase all the “evil” in the world and create a cuddly, gay-free cultural womb. The fact is, queerness has factored somehow into some of the greatest artistic accomplishments in history, in one form or another. And you know what? If Charles Laughton, John Gielgud, Noël Coward, Oscar Wilde, and all the rest are wrong, I don’t want to be right.

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Filed under art, Cinema, Politics, Sexuality