Aug 23, 2014

Walt Whitman, The Good Gay Poet

When I was in high school and college it was customary to closet gay writers.  The professor might have known, but it was assumed unseemly (at best) to tell a class full of "impressionable youth" that gay people exist  So Oscar Wilde was arrested on "scandalous charges," and Shakespeare's rhapsodies over the "fair youth" of the Sonnets was a "poetic convention of the day."

And Walt Whitman (1819-1892), whose Leaves of Grass includes exceptionally open lines like "we boys together clinging, one the other never leaving"?

"'s talking about his brother."

In my junior year, my American Renaissance professor, Dr. Ames, brought Whitman a little farther out of the closet: "He loved women -- he scattered illegitimate children up and down the Eastern Seaboard -- but he also had a bit of the fruit in him."

Thirty years later, Walt Whitman the "good gay poet," and his magnum opus, Leaves of Grass, are still usually closeted by English professors.  I often give my students this list of famous writers, and ask them to guess which ones were gay or bisexual:

1. Herman Melville (Moby Dick)
2. Charles Dickens (Tale of Two Cities)
3. Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass)
4. William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet)
5. Emily Dickinson (Final Harvest)
6. Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)
7. Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest)
8. F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby)
9. Edgar Allen Poe (The Raven)
10. Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows)

Answers: #1, #3, #4, #5, #7, #10.
They're always the most surprised to find out that Whitman was gay, and Dickens was not.

So let's make things clear:  Walt Whitman, the greatest poet in American history, was definitely, undeniably gay.

There is no evidence that he had any erotic interest in women: the illegitimate children story was a screen, made up during the 1920s to "save" the poet's image.

Before there was a vocabulary for same-sex desire, Whitman was all about inventing one:
"the manly love of comrades" and "adhesive friendships."

Near the end of his life, when the word "homosexual" was coined, and same-sex desire defined as a symptom of a dangerous psychosis, he backtracked a bit, claiming that he meant only spiritual comrades, nothing physical.

But he had many "physical" comrades through his life, and his journals describes cruising in detail.  He picked up men on streetcars, at the docks, in the park.

Jerry Taylor, slept with me last night, heavenly.

Traverce Hedgeman, young, slight, fair, feminine, conductor.

Howard Atkinson, tall, sandy, country-fied.

Thin, smooth, and slightly feminine were his favorite traits. In West Hollywood, we called them Cute Young Things.

His long-term lover, Peter Doyle, went against type.

He also spent time with early gay rights pioneer Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), and, perhaps, artist Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), who painted a famous portrait of him, and may have photographed him nude.

Labeled only "Old Man, Seven Photographs," they are today housed in the Getty Museum,

But not on exhibit; you have to ask for them.

Even today, Walt Whitman is closeted.

See also: Gay American Renaissance

Field of Lost Shoes: Buddy-Bonding in the Civil War

I hate movies about war -- actually, I'm not a fan of movies about people dying in general -- so I'm not going to see Field of Lost Shoes (2014).  But if you have the stomach for it, it looks like there will be some gay subtexts.

It's based on a true story of the Civil War: In May 1864, as Union troops led by General Ulysses Grant pushed into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the Confederacy scrambled for a final defense.

274 teenage cadets from the Virginia Military Institute were called into service, and marched 80 miles to New Market. They never expected to fight.  But General Breckenridge put them on the front line, where 47 were wounded and 10 were killed (mostly freshmen).

Several of the main cast members play cadets on the casualty list, including Zach Roering (Vampire Diaries), Parker Croft (Once Upon a Time), and Max Lloyd Jones (The Sandlot 2).  I assume that Nolan Gould (Modern Family), who plays a composite character, is also a goner.

That basically leaves Luke Benward (How to Eat Fried Worms) still alive at the end.

But this is a good lineup of hunky actors, who apparently deliver a number of shirtless scenes.

I'm sure there won't be any gay characters -- Hollywood thinks that there were no gay people in the past -- but several of the actors, including Nolan Gould, Zach Roering, and Parker Croft, have played gay characters or performed in gay-positive venues.

And there's bound to be significant gay subtexts in the buddy-bonding among the doomed cadets.

Aug 17, 2014

The Three Jacksons

During the late 1990s,  there were three teen idols named Jackson vying for a place in the hearts of gay boys and heterosexual girls.  All three had the wholesome, innocent quality that preteens and tweens find dreamy, and all three played in some movies with gay characters.

Before you start making homophobic comments: I am not stating that they are personally gay, or that they personally played gay characters.  I am merely stating that they appeared in movies or tv series which contained gay characters.

At the time even teen magazines sometimes got them mixed up.  

1. Joshua Jackson (born 1978).  Starred in Dawson's Creek (1998-2003) with John Wesley Shipp, plus:
 Apt Pupil (1998): Brad Renfro has a homoerotic subtext.
Cruel Intentions (1999): Joshua plays a gay stereotype.
The Skulls (2000): homoerotic buddy bonding.
The Laramie Project (2002): gay themed
Lone Star State of Mind (2003):  a movie with gay characters in it.
Cursed (2005): a movie with gay characters in it.

Distinguishing characteristics:not photographed shirtless very often; not particularly buffed or tanned, but still quite attractive. Still popular, star of the heterosexist paranormal sci-fi series Fringe.  Strong gay ally.  Appeared in the GLAAD Media Awards.

2. Jeremy Jackson (born 1980). Played on Baywatch (1991-1999) as Hobie, son of head lifeguard David Hasselhoff, plus:
Ring of Darkness (2004):  gay character.
DTLA (2012): tv series about gay men.

Distinguishing characteristics: always shirtless, always tanned.  Bodybuilder's physique. Doesn't mind semi-nude shots; guest Chippendale dancer. Conservative Evangelical Christian who is pro-gay.

3. Jonathan Jackson (born 1982). Starred as Lucky on General Hospital (1993-1999), plus:
The Deep End of the Ocean (1999): gay character
Trapped in a Purple Haze (2000); gay character

Raised Seventh-Day Adventist, converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  Doesn't like gay people. ( I got this from an interview in which he stated that he wouldn't work with gay people. )
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