When I was a junior in college, I took courses in "The Modern British Novel", "The American Renaissance," and "Modern American Literature," plus German, French, and Spanish Literature. And I forever afterwards restricted my literature consumption to the pre-modern (I should have known from my freshman-year class in Fiction Writing). The professor of the Amer Lit class chose the texts that most jubilantly proclaimed the absence of gay people from the world.
1. John Updike, "A&P." A teenage boy is working in small-town supermarket: “In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits.” He goes on to describe their bodies in detail. Why do men never walk in with their shirts off?
2. Alan Dugan, "Tribute to Kafka for Someone Taken." He is at a party, when the police arrive. “I take one last drink,” he writes, “A last puff on a cigarette, a last kiss at a girl. . . .” Why is there never a last kiss at a boy?
3. Carl Sandburg, "Stars, Songs, Faces": "Gather the faces of women" through our lives, and then, as we prepare to die, “Loosen your hands, let go and say goodbye.” Why are men's faces not worth gathering, or letting go?
Not much. Carl Sandburg evokes "the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of youth, half-naked, sweating," but his world is overwhelmingly that of “slender supple girls with shapely legs."
Men are described only in their connection to women: the Shovel-Man, who dreamed of by “a dark-eyed woman in the old country,” or Jack, who “married a tough woman and they had eight children,” or a Polish boy, “out with his best girl” on a Saturday night. Men only and always long for women.
There is a drag queen in "A Bar in Charlotte Amelie," but he is a lonely, pathetic creature, and he never expresses any same-sex interest.
Um...so that means Tothero isn't gay?
Alan Dugan was “the poet of masturbation,” endlessly describing his straight desires and exploits, with no mention of men except for barroom cronies. His “Night Song for a Boy” is not about a boy, but about his depression over his failure to get enough women.
In old age, Dugan has a homoerotic dream about a dead friend, but in perhaps the most homophobic line in any poem since Catullus, he is horrified at the thought that his dream self might be “an impotent homosexual necrophiliac,” and longs for the “right” sort of dreams, dreams about women, again.
Every selection on the syllabus of that long-ago class came from an author who obsessed over heterosexual passion and erased nearly every trace of same-sex love from the world. Their descriptions of men are bare and lifeless, as if too trivial to mention amid the endless paragraphs devoted to girls’ legs.
There were gay writers in mid-20th century America to choose from: Truman Capote, John Cheever, Robert Duncan, Thom Gunn, Allen Ginsburg, Amiri Baraka, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal. But I never heard of any of them in Modern American Literature class.
See also: Carl Sandburg's Two Gay References