Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Big Fat Greek Gay Blog: No Way Out

Throughout most of my adult life, I have battled depression in some way. I have learned to deal with it and medication has helped. Bobby, over at My Big Fat Greek Gay Blog, had a post today about depression. It is well worth reading. It certainly shows that you are not alone.

My Big Fat Greek Gay Blog: No Way Out

Many, if not the majority of, gay and lesbian youth face the problems of depression. If you find yourself depressed or feeling like you want to end it all, get in contact with your doctor. He or she can help. Tell a friend, tell a family member, but don't try to go through it alone. There are numerous resources out there. Get help before it is too late. Bobby and I both have, and it will help, I promise.

Homosexuality and the Writers of the Harlem Renaissance

Eric Garber's study creates a picturesque montage of Harlem gay life during this period when many African Americans tolerated, indulged in, and even celebrated homosexuality. Garber's is a cinematic look at gay life, art, and culture that pauses here and there to capture the details of the night club scene, art work, personalities, and so on.

Painting Harlem as a gay liberated capital, Garber shows how homosexuality, among intellectuals especially, was accepted as a personal matter that did not interfere with the larger, more important work in racial and cultural advancement. Gays were oppressed during the period, but a thriving black gay subculture ensured that open secrets were kept.

Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, "Moms" Mabley, Mabel Hampton, Alberta Hunter, Gladys Bentley, and other lesbian or bisexual women found employment in show business, and many sang the blues about gay lives and loves.

Drag balls, commonplace during the period, were called "spectacles of color" by Langston Hughes in The Big Sea (1945); such balls were frequented often by the Harlem bohemians who wrote candidly about them in their correspondence.

Speakeasies and buffet flats (rental units notorious for cafeteria-style opportunities for a variety of sex) were spaces in which gays were granted generous liberation. Wallace Thurman, in Infants of the Spring (1932), gives a realistic rendering of the buffet flat that he, Langston Hughes, and Richard Bruce Nugent shared from time to time.

This artistic community was a complex one with an intricate network of members that cut across all sectors of the art world. At a time when New York still had laws banning homosexuality and when baths and gay bars were raided frequently, it is noteworthy that the Harlem Renaissance was moved along, in great measure, by gay men and women who led amazing double lives.

The Function of the Closet

The function of the closet during this period is complex. Although the closet has typically been seen as oppressive, many of these gay artists subverted the stultifying power of the closet by forming an artistic coalition grounded in secrecy and loyalty. Thus, the closet was reconstructed to form a protective shield against discrimination from publishers, patrons, and the media. The closet enabled many writers to blend into the mainstream and to publish without the fear of exposure.

The Influence of Alain Locke

image Alain Locke (1886-1954), who has been credited with ushering in the New Negro movement, has been justly criticized for advancing the careers of young black males to the obvious neglect of such writers as Grimké, Dunbar-Nelson, and Georgia Douglas Johnson. Locke, a Harvard Ph.D. and professor at Howard University, promoted the careers of Wallace Thurman, Richard Bruce Nugent, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes.

To crown only Locke with the accolade of inspiring the Harlem Renaissance is to deny the seminal positions held by W. E. B. DuBois, Jessie Fauset, James Weldon Johnson, and the Opportunity and Crisis organizations in fostering the careers of many of the period's artists.

Without question a misogynist, Locke's contribution to the development of a gay male literary heritage was formidable and certainly deliberate. He was at the center of the Harlem gay coterie and very early on gave impetus to the careers of Cullen and, especially, Hughes.

Countee Cullen

image Through frequent letters, Locke urged Countee Cullen (1903-1946) to write poetry aimed at bettering the race. Urging Cullen to read Edward Carpenter's anthology of male-male friendship Ioläus, Locke helped the young writer find comfort in realizing his gay self. Thus, Locke was also, in part, responsible for Cullen's maturing gay sensibilities.

Cullen learned the importance of the closet and wrote poetry that promoted the image and idea of the New Negro while also subtly expressing his gay self. Scholars are beginning to investigate the coded language in Cullen's poetry in order to establish him as a leading figure in the black gay male literary heritage. Many of the lyrics in The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929) and The Medea and Some Poems (1935) lend themselves to gay readings.

Yet, in as early a work as Color (1925), Cullen wrote gay verses, such as "Tableau," "Fruit of the Flower," and "For a Poet"--a poem written at a time when Cullen was embroiled in unrequited love for Langston Hughes.

Langston Hughes

image Before he had finished college at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and during his many travels, Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was pursued by Locke, with Cullen mediating. Although sexual relationships never materialized, the intimate friendships of these three gay men were concretized in their commitment to their literary careers and shared racial ideologies.

Although there were regular philosophical disagreements regarding the bewildering vocation of poets who were also deemed "race men," still a tight bond developed that knit these writers together for their entire lives.

Hughes, arguably the most closeted of the renaissance gay males, had many close associations with homosexuals and lesbians throughout his life. And, as with Cullen, scholars are beginning to decipher the codification of his gayness in his poetry, drama, and fiction.

Commentators have cited many poems as candidates for gay readings, among them "Young Sailor," "Waterfront Streets," "Desire," "Trumpet Player," "Café 3 A. M.," and the sequence of poems in Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951).

Angelina Weld Grimké

image Angelina Weld Grimké (1880-1958) made her contribution to the lesbian literary heritage as a poet during the Harlem Renaissance. She was published in Locke's The New Negro (1925) and in Cullen's Caroling Dusk (1927). Grimké's love lyrics, many as yet unpublished, are mostly addressed to women and describe love that is hidden, unrequited, or otherwise unrealized.

The honesty of the lesbian passion in these beautiful lyrics secures for Grimké a place in African-American gay literature. Poems such as "Rosalie," "If," "To Her of the Cruel Lips," "El Beso," "Autumn," "Give Me Your Eyes," "Caprichosa," and "My Shrine" are all testimony to the unrealized lesbian love for which Grimké longed.

Alice Dunbar-Nelson

image Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935) was married several times, most notably to the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. All of her marriages were troublesome for one reason or another, but despite her personal problems, she managed to write and publish fiction and poetry. The lesbian relationships that checkered her life had a significant influence on her creativity. For example, Gloria T. Hull suggests that, in the unpublished novel This Lofty Oak, Dunbar-Nelson chronicles the life of Edwina B. Kruse, one of her lovers.

Dunbar-Nelson's literary reputation during the Harlem Renaissance is assessed largely (and Hull contends erroneously) on her achievement as a poet. She published "Violets" in Crisis in 1917, a work that exemplifies the polish and lucidity that typify her poetry, especially her sonnets.

Hull documents other lesbian affairs with Fay Jackson Robinson, a Los Angeles journalist, and Helene Ricks London, a Bermuda artist. Dunbar-Nelson wrote poetry for these women, most of which does not survive except in diary fragments. Dunbar-Nelson's diary reveals her prominent place in an active network of African-American lesbians.

Claude McKay

image In Home to Harlem (1927), Jamaican-born Claude McKay (1899-1948) openly discusses Harlem's black experience with lesbianism and even has a significant black gay male character. Following Wayne F. Cooper's fine biography of McKay (which discusses honestly the writer's homosexuality), scholars are beginning to make connections between the writer's sexuality and his writing.

Yet, as is the case with many of the renaissance writers, McKay's homosexuality as an influence on his creativity must be traced by reading between the lines. Some poems seem to be perfect candidates for such readings, among them "Bennie's Departure," "To Inspector W. E. Clark," "Alfonso, Dressing to Wait at Table," "The Barrier," "Courage," "Adolescence," "Home Thoughts," and "On Broadway."

Other poems, such as "Desolate" and "Absence," can easily be given gay readings, inasmuch as gays often write on the themes of isolation, dreams deferred, unrequited or secret love, and alienation. image

Wallace Thurman

The short life of Wallace Thurman (1902-1934) gave to the African-American gay and lesbian tradition two novels--The Blacker the Berry (1929) and Infants of the Spring (1932)--which are unmatched as clear and honest depictions of black gay and lesbian life.

Richard Bruce Nugent

The long life of Richard Bruce Nugent (1906-1989) produced very few literary monuments, but like Thurman, Nugent had a penchant for shocking readers and producing works with a decidedly foreign and provocative voice. Locke included Nugent's gay story "Sahdji" in The New Negro and encouraged the young writer to work at narrative.

imageIn 1926, the one and only issue of Fire!! (a quarterly "Devoted to the Younger Negro Artists"), carried Nugent's more developed homosexual story "Smoke, Lilies, and Jade"--now praised as the first published African-American gay short story. The story is the fictionalization of an evening Nugent spent walking and talking with Langston Hughes.

The story is a major achievement in gay literary history because it can be read as a defense of homosexuality while it also poignantly thematizes male-male love as beautifully natural and wholesome.

Even in his later years, Nugent continued to write openly about the gay experience: In 1970, Crisis published a Christmas story, "Beyond Where the Star Stood Still," in which Herod's catamite offers a remarkable gift to the infant Jesus. Again, Nugent--embracing the mushrooming Gay Rights movement--aimed at forcing the safe African-American world, shaped largely by the fundamentalist church, to face the reality of a black gay presence.

Subverting the Mainstream Power Establishments

Although Harlem was awash with gay literary production during the renaissance, it would be overstating reality to say that there was a deliberate gay movement afoot. Homosexuality might have found toleration in the privacy of speakeasies and salon parties, but the boardrooms at major publishing companies were far less inviting.

Couple that fact with the conservatism that underlined the very notion of a "Talented Tenth," and it is easy to conclude that any gay literary production (with the clear exception of Thurman and Nugent, who were severely criticized) would have to subvert, in rather creative ways, the mainstream white and black power establishments.

Recurring Themes, Issues, and Ideas

The recurring themes, issues, and ideas in the gay and lesbian writing of the period underscore the endurance of those writers who strove to express their gay selves.

A recurrent motif in the writings of the period is the presence of a forbidden, unnamed, and genderless love. Also common is the use of nature to express the budding forth of an unquestionable though unutterable beauty that is often unappreciated and wasted. Most writers stutter through expressions of a kind of passion so noble yet so unattainable that it must be enacted secretively or abandoned.

Because sexuality is inextricably wound up in the very experience of being human, it often shares turf with deep religious experience or political conviction. Cullen's "The Black Christ," for example, is on the surface a narrative poem of salvation. Yet the poet weaves the salvation experience neatly into the somewhat veiled story of Jim's questionable sexuality.

The homoeroticism of the poem pictures the lynched black boy as a beauty of nature who is raped and sacrificed because he goes unappreciated. Ironically, he is falsely accused and killed for attempting to rape a beautiful white girl whom he understands as the embodiment of Spring. The poem, like many of the period, can be read on a deeper, less apparent level as a diatribe against sexual repression.

Perhaps the most prevalent theme among gay writers of the period is that of the unrealized or displaced dream. One cannot read Grimké, Hughes, McKay, or Cullen without confronting the unachievable, unnamed, and haunting dream.

From the most closeted to the most liberated, the writers of the gay Harlem Renaissance form an unquestionable tradition through which contemporary gay and lesbian readers can see the depth and range of experiences that, in many cases, mirror theirs. If these mirrored images have the power to transform and liberate, perhaps the new renaissance currently underway by African-American gay and lesbian writers will produce a literature that represents more realized and fulfilling dreams.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What Can GLBT People Learn from the Harlem Renaissance?

Justin at A Gay College Guy in Virginia was so kind in giving a shout out to both this blog and my other blog.  Justin recently revealed on his blog that he will be taking a class on African American Literature this semester. In honor of Justin and the class that he is taking, I was inspired to write several posts about the Harlem Renaissance, one of the richest periods in American art and literature for African American artists.  Many of the topics of the literature of the Harlem Renaissance can be seen as an analogy for the plight of GLBT people in America and around the world as we work everyday for further acceptance, not to mention the number of gay and lesbian artists that made the Harlem Renaissance possible.
imageKnown also by the names Black Renaissance or New Negro Movement, the Harlem Renaissance represented a cultural movement among African Americans roughly between the end of World War I (1918) and the beginning of the Great Depression (1929). The names given to this movement reveal its essential features. Certainly the words "black" and "Negro" mean that this movement centered on African Americans, and the term "renaissance" indicates that something new was born or, more accurately, that a cultural spirit was reawakened in African American cultural life. Although most historians remember the Harlem Renaissance as a literary movement, in fact, African Americans during the 1920s also made great strides in musical and visual arts, as well as science. Finally, the focus on Harlem—an old Dutch-built neighborhood of New York City—indicates that this "renaissance" was something of an urban phenomenon. In fact, the exciting developments in African American cultural life of the 1920s were not limited to Harlem, but also had roots in other urban communities where black Americans migrated in great numbers: East St. Louis, Illinois; Chicago's south side; and Washington, D.C.  The Harlem Renaissance included several important gay and lesbian writers.
The artists of the Harlem Renaissance forwarded two goals. Like the journalists and other "crusaders" of the Progressive era, black authors tried to point out the injustices of racism in American life. Second, newspaper editors, activists, authors, and other artists began to promote a more unified and positive culture among African Americans. Early efforts to publicize a more unified consciousness among African Americans included two publications in 1919: Robert Kerlin's collection of editorial material in Voice of the Negro and Emmett Scott's Letters from Negro Migrants. On the political front, leaders such as Marcus Garvey began to put forth plans for black economic self-sufficiency, political separatism, and the creation of a cross-national African consciousness.
image Several important developments during the World War I era gave rise to the Harlem Renaissance. First, black southerners since the turn of the century had been moving in large numbers to the North's industrial cities. As a result, southern blacks who had been denied their political rights and had resorted to sharecropping as a means of livelihood came into contact with northern African Americans who were more often the descendants of free blacks and, therefore, had better access to education and employment. Additionally, black Americans moving to the cities had much to complain about. World War I, the so-called war to make the world safe for democracy, had been a bitter experience for most African Americans. The U.S. Army was rigidly segregated, race riots broke out in many American cities during or immediately after the war, and the North was residentially and economically segregated like the South, despite the absence of Jim Crow Laws.
Gays, Lesbians and The Harlem Renaissance
The culture of the Harlem Renaissance was one that was open to sexual exploration and gays and lesbians, both Black and White, found a community there. The jazz and blues clubs of Harlem felt like a welcoming place to gays and lesbians of different races. Author Arwyn Moore claims that many white gays and lesbians who frequented Harlem nightlife became a part of the Black culture: listening to the music, reading the literature and most importantly, relating to common prejudice and bigotry both experienced from the greater mainstream culture.
Rent Parties
In addition to the clubs of Harlem, private rent parties became a place where gays and lesbians could dance and socialize without fear of being arrested. Rent parties were private parties that people threw in their apartments to raise image rent. Rent parties became places for gays and lesbians to mingle in relative safety.
Out Blues Musicians
The Blues music that was popular at the time was also an attraction for gays and lesbians. Many of the lyrics spoke of gender-bending men and women, blurring of sexual boundaries and same-sex attraction. One of the most famous Blues singers of that time was Gladys Bentley who was notorious for wearing men's clothing on stage and for her marriage to another woman.
Ma Rainey was another Black lesbian singer, her famous song begged listeners to "Prove it on Me." Ma Rainey was said to have had a relationship with bisexual singer Bessie Smith.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Five Years Ago…

image At this moment, five years ago, I sat having brunch with my roommate, not knowing that in the next twelve hours, my world would be turned upside down.  We returned home form brunch, she passed out from too many mimosas, and I sat and watched in horror as a hurricane covered the whole Gulf of Mexico.  It was coming straight for us and was steadily strengthening.  I tried to wake my roommate to see if she wanted to evacuate, but once she had been drinking, not much would wake her until she had recovered.  The news from the Weather Channel got increasingly worse.  We had to get out of there. Finally, she woke up and realized the same thing.

image I had lived through hurricanes before, nothing though on this magnitude.  What most people don’t realize is that living inland an hour or two away from the coast can still be a devastating place.  The tidal surge is not as much of a concern for us as is the tornadoes and winds that come with the storm as it makes its way inland.  We decided not to wait out the storm and left town, almost too late.  The wind and rain had already begun.  We took a more rural course to avoid the massive traffic delays.  Finally, late into the night, we reached Texas and found a hotel room.  There, we were stuck for the next five day, in a town whose cable service refused to have any other news service but Fox News.  We watched as the levees broke in New Orleans, hoping to hear reports from home.  They didn’t come.

image On Thursday, we decided that it was time to head back home.  The closer we got, the more devastation and destruction we saw.  Roads were closed due to the number of trees that had fallen and not enough manpower was available to clear them.  Other roads that had been opened were closed to most traffic except for relief workers and emergency personnel. The devastation we saw was indescribable, and we weren’t even headed to New Orleans or the Gulf Coast. The most difficult part of the journey was finding a gas station that had both electricity and gas.  Most of the stations had run out and did not know when more could be delivered.  Most of the other stations had not had electricity restored to them and remained closed.

imageFinally, we got near home to see the street next to us with hundreds of pine trees piled up and completely blocking the road.  It looked more like a lumber yard than a residential neighborhood.  A tornado had landed in our neighborhood.  We passed a nearby church, that had been set up as a tent city.  Tents were all that many people had left.  Food and water was in short supply and everyone was trying to help out. Then we turned on our street.  I was wholly unprepared for the sight that was there.  The houses around us were largely spared.  Our house was barely visible from the pine trees that lay on top of it.  Thankfully, it was a sturdy house and the walls had survived.  One tree had gone through the roof like an arrow, leaving a hole in the roof that pierced though the air conditioner ducts and and eventually stuck out of the living room.  That one tree had done the most damage, for as the rain continued, the water flowed through the air conditioner ducts and out the vents, leaving what looked like waterfall paintings down the walls.  The carpet was sopping wet and with the humidity and heat, minus air conditioning, the house felt like a sauna.   The hundreds of books in my home office were destroyed with water damage, and most of my clothes were ruined by the same waterfalls that had come through the air conditioner ducts.  Those that weren’t destroyed by the water rushing into the house were already beginning to mold from the heat and humidity.

imageSuddenly, I had found myself homeless, since the house was utterly unlivable.  Family and friends came with trucks, trailers, and extra gas to load up my belongings and take them to a storage unit in the town my parents lived.  My life had suddenly been packed away in boxes and put into storage.  I would not find another permanent place to live for over a year.  During that year, I was forced to live in the schools dorms.  It was all that was available.  Then, a friend of mine had grandparents with an extra house and they allowed me to live there for the next six months.  Finally, things began to settle down and life returned somewhat to normal, but it has been a long process.  It is also one of the reasons that I am still in graduate school because certain milestones of my degree process had to be put off for months because of the turmoil caused by Katrina.

image New Orleans is what you hear about most in the news.  It was the larges city hit by the disaster and the floods caused by the levees breaking were extremely destructive.  What most of the news accounts today are forgetting is that the Mississippi Gulf Coast was what was where the hurricane made landfall.  The cities of Bay St. Louis and Waveland were wiped off the map.  They have rebuilt but it was a slow and long process.  The devastation was so great that the two towns discussed merging and becoming Bayland, because the destruction seemed too insurmountable.  They honestly wondered if they could rebuild the cities from the ground up.  The cities of Long Beach, Gulfport, and Biloxi were equally devastated.  Antebellum homes that had stood for over 100 years, and had survived Hurricane Camille in 1969, were lost forever.  Only the foundations remained, nothing else could even be seen of these houses.  Two universities were forced to close because of the devastation wrought by the storm. One never did rebuild and chose to concentrate their efforts on their other campus.  The other took up residence in an old abandoned hospital while they attempted to rebuild in a new location a few more mile inland.

So as the discussion of Katrina is on the news today, please remember that it was not just New Orleans that suffered.  It was the whole Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Pensacola, Florida.  Also, remember that the hurricane and its destruction did not end after it made landfall. The destruction continued inland for hundreds of miles.  South of Interstate-10 was hit the hardest, but inland the destruction reached all the way to Interstate-20.

It’s Not All Bad…


If you have not read my post titled “Being Put Back in the Closet” read it first, or this post will not make any sense to you.  This is an update of this post.  I had feared the worse about this situations, but it has not turned out too badly.  The rest of this post is from an email I sent to a reader and friend with a further explanation of my situation at this school.  We have been in school for three weeks and things are looking better, so I wrote most of the following as a response to a very supportive email that he had sent me.  I hope he doesn’t mind me using what I had wrote to him here. However, just a day after I wrote this post, the principle of the school stopped me in the halls.

Several of the parents have had discussions with the principle about me.  Apparently, they are all ecstatic because they have finally hired a great teacher (their words, not mine).  I have gotten kids who never had an interest in school before to being very excited about going to class.  In the classroom, I am myself.  I will not change that, though I can't let slip curse words, like I do in my college classes.  I have also had a some of the parents come up to me and tell me how much their kids are enjoying my class.  Maybe they will learn one day that it is not the person's "feminine behavior" that matters but their credentials.  The kids may be saying things behind my back, but I haven't heard the slightest rumor of it (this is a small school, rumors get around quick).  It appears that they are so fascinated by my classes that it doesn't matter to them.  Besides, my everyday voice may be "feminine" as they say, but my teaching voice is loud and booming.

I look forward to the day when all of America can be as progressive and accepting as our cities. It will happen one day, I feel sure, but just as racism still continues, so will homophobia. I attempt to teach my students each day to be more tolerant. I do what I can.  I want to broaden their minds.  Isn't that what education is about?  If the kids learn it, maybe it will rub off on their parents.  If not, maybe it is a lesson they take with them throughout their life.  I may not make a huge difference, but every narrow minded view that I expand, is a step in the right direction.  At least that is how I allow myself to get through this.

I want to thank all you for your your words of support and comments about this post.  It really helps to reach out to others like I am able to with my blog.  I don't always think that people who have lived most if not all of their lives in larger cities can truly understand what those of us in rural areas go through.  I have always preferred living in a city, not in a town of 1100 people, but hopefully, this is temporary.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Edward II, Queen of England?

The stern but dead Edward IThe fourteenth-century English king, Edward I was “afflicted” with a son who did not live up to the manly expectations he had for him; his son, Edward, liked gardening and shoeing horses more than jousting. Modern sensibilities aside, in the world of medieval royalty, such unmanly pursuits were simply unworthy of a future king. To clear up the problem, Edward I (also known as Edward Longshanks, "The Hammer of the Scots") appointed him a wildly charismatic squire named Piers Gaveston from Gascony. The hope was that this successful, talented young man might rub off on young Edward. The two got on famously. A bit too famously:

...and when the King's son saw him he fell so much in love that he entered upon an enduring compact with him, and chose and determined to knit an indissoluble bond with him, before all other mortals.

Other chroniclers note that the King feared Gaveston "loved his son inordinately," that the younger Edward "had an inordinate affection for a certain Gascon knight," and that the Gascon might find himself in trouble "on account of the undue intimacy which the young Lord Edward had adopted towards him."

Medieval boys huntingBefore long, the King was looking for excuses to keep the two apart. The youngsters had gotten into trouble by trespassing onto the Bishop of Coventry's property and poaching the Bishop's deer, and the King seized upon this incident as an opportunity to separate them for a few months. However, rather than send away the squire, Edward removed his own son (their relationship was, admittedly, chilly). Young Edward was absent from court for the summer of 1305, and Gaveston was left without a playmate.

G3VRD00Z The happy pair couldn't be kept apart forever. Edward returned to court, and before long he was bestowing gifts, titles and land on Gaveston. In one particularly bold move in April of 1307 he asked his father Edward I to make Gaveston the Count of Ponthieu, which was a pretty modest title but did include a fair bit of land. King Edward, who'd spent a lot of his time battling the Scots (and would later leave his son in rather a poor position there), would have none of it:

You baseborn whoreson! Do you want to give lands away now, you who never gained any? As the Lord lives, if it were not for fear of breaking up the kingdom you should never enjoy your inheritance!

King Edward reached forward and grabbed a handful of his son's hair, and yanked it clean out. Gaveston was banished from England entirely, but Prince Edward followed him out, showering him with tapestries, quilts, assorted other presents and easy money. This banishment only lasted about three months, because Edward I died on July 7. This left Prince Edward, now Edward II, free to indulge himself.

The Reign of Edward II

image As such, the first thing Edward II did was recall Gaveston and appoint the man earl of Cornwall and give him tons of money. Gaveston was also immediately slated to marry Edward's niece, even though his taste in girls was, well, somewhat questionable. The new king also stripped the bishop of Coventry (he of the poached deer) of his title and imprisoned the bishop in the Tower of London. Things went downhill from there.

At Gaveston's wedding, Edward called for games and jousting, at which the young groom and his coterie excelled. This tweaked the old baronial guard to no end. Those nobles who enjoyed power during Edward I's reign were now second-fiddle to the dashing young king, and a newcomer at that. To make matters worse, when out making arrangements for his royal marriage, Edward made Gaveston regent rather than any of the other more experienced, highly-placed barons. Edward had also been efficiently depleting the crown's coffers by bestowing outrageous gifts on his friend. As contemporary chroniclers wrote,

Our King... was incapable of moderate favor, and on account of [Gaveston] was said to forget himself, and so [Gaveston] was accounted a sorcerer.

When Edward returned with his new bride Isabella, Gaveston met them toting so much jewelry he "quite eclipsed the king." The king ditched his bride and ran to Gaveston, embracing him tightly, crying, "Brother, brother!" Isabella's father, King Philip IV of France, had given Edward some fancy jewelry which was found to be hanging on Gaveston's neck the very next day. This angered many of the nobles, and it was simply bad form for someone else to shows up wearing your wedding presents a few days after the ceremony.

English Nobles and Their Hatred of Gaveston

Several contemporary sources criticized Edward's seeming infatuation with image Piers Gaveston, to the extent that he ignored and humiliated his wife. Chroniclers called the relationship excessive, immoderate, beyond measure and reason and criticized his desire for wicked and forbidden sex. The Westminster chronicler claimed that Gaveston had led Edward to reject the sweet embraces of his wife; while the Meaux Chronicle (written several decades later) took concern further and complained that, Edward took too much delight in sodomy. While such sources do not, in themselves, prove that Edward and Gaveston were lovers, they at least show that some contemporaries and later writers thought strongly that this might be the case.

Gaveston was considered to be athletic and handsome; he was a few years older than Edward and had seen military service in Flanders before becoming Edward's close companion. He was known to have a quick, biting wit, and his fortunes continued to ascend as Edward obtained more honors for him, including the Earldom of Cornwall. Earlier, Edward I had attempted to control the situation by exiling Gaveston from England. However, upon the elder king's death in 1307, Edward II immediately recalled him. Isabella's marriage to Edward subsequently took place in 1308. Almost immediately, she wrote to her father, Philip the Fair, complaining of Edward's behavior.

Gaveston the upstart was proving to be such a pain that a group of nobles threatened to boycott the coronation unless he wasn't allowed to be there. Diplomatic Edward assured them he wouldn't. Of course, he showed up anyway. Not only did he show up, but he was in the processional line carrying the crown, dressed in royal purple sewn with pearls, "so decked out that he more resembled the god Mars than an ordinary mortal." Barons scrambled to throw him out or kill him outright, but, with some effort, calmed themselves.

As it turned out, Gaveston had also insisted upon coordinating the entire event, and he flubbed it completely. The ceremony ran over by three full hours and was short of seats, forcing nobility to stand. Standing room in the back was so crowded that a knight was suffocated underfoot. Even with the extra time, the banquet wasn't ready when it finished. Food was poorly cooked and service was reportedly very poor. The ceremony was a complete disaster, and only because a certain Gascon had worked his way deeply in the king's favor. It wasn't long before Queen Isabella, by all accounts a charming, beautiful person, was writing her father that "I am the most wretched of wives," and that Edward was "an entire stranger in my bed."

Earls to Swine

Clearly, this situation couldn't last. An overwhelming majority of barons got together and announced that this had gone far enough, and that Gaveston had to go. To be sure, Edward would not be the first or last English king to whore around the kingdom but, medieval attitudes towards homosexuality being seen as sinful and blasphemous, something bad was eventually bound to happen. Edward, surrounded by powerful, strong-willed men, capitulated, stripped Gaveston of his titles and land, and sent him off to Ireland. To make sure he wasn't coming back, the bishops announced that the Gaveston would be excommunicated if he ever set foot back in England. However, before long, he lobbied the pope strongly and got the excommunication threat removed. He returned, and Edward obligingly appointed him to be the earl of Cornwall again. Three years later, the barons again united in disgust and threw Gaveston out. To reign in the king's expenses they also took over his finances, in his words, "as one would provide for an idiot."

Gaveston was back before long, associating openly with Edward, who made him earl of Cornwall for the third time. The bishops excommunicated Gaveston; the lords prepared for civil war. The king and his favorite fled to Scotland, hoping to secure safety there, but to no avail. As armies commanded by the Ordainers approached the couple in Newcastle, they fled, leaving behind not only household servants, furniture, and treasure, but Edward's long-suffering wife Isabella. She was three months pregnant. If nothing else, she enjoyed a modicum of popular support, having been yanked around the country by her husband and his lover and, heavy with child, abandoned to advancing armies.

As the forces got closer to the couple, Edward was forced to dump Gaveston off and tried to stir up support for himself in any number of English cities. It didn't work; Gaveston was captured by the earl of Pembroke, who promised to deliver him to the king and barons for suitable punishment. However, on the way back, the good Pembroke passed within a few miles of his own castle. He had been away for some time, and took this opportunity to slip by and freshen up the wife. The one night he was gone a renegade group of disgruntled barons swept over Gaveston and ransacked his room. And if they weren't pissed enough, they found him in possession of some of the crown jewels. Gaveston's weakness for jewelry and baubles had proved urgent enough for him to convince King Edward to loan them out. While Gaveston's motives for "borrowing" the crown jewels were probably vanity rather than theft, the presence of such sacred items on his person was more than enough to get him in trouble. He was marched some miles on bare feet and thrown into a nearby dungeon.

To his credit, Pembroke was upset. He didn't harbor kinder feelings for Gaveston than anybody else, but he had given his word that the prancer would make it back to Edward. He asked a variety of barons and other officials to intervene on his behalf so as not to lose face, but nobody wanted to rescue Gaveston -- in the hands of barons, he was truly friendless.

An Untidy End

Finally, one of them took some initiative. Gaveston was marched outside, up a hill, and forced to lie his head on a stump, whereupon it was neatly removed. There was then some consternation about who exactly ought to grab the head and take responsibility for the deed; once that was settled they were stuck with the headless body of Gaveston and had to do something with it. The corpse was carried to the castle of one of Gaveston's enemies, the earl of Warwick, but he turned it away at the door. It was accepted by some nuns in Oxford, but they couldn't bury it because Gaveston had died an excommunicate.

While Gavseton had riled up enough nobility to instigate a civil war, his sudden death split their union and the kingdom drifted back to internal squabbling rather than armed conflict. However, Edward was inconsolable: "By God's Soul, he acted as a fool. If he had taken my advice he would never have fallen into the hands of the earls," he wept. Fortunately for his troubled imagepsyche, Isabella gave birth to the future Edward III just in time to distract him. The king cooed over his child. Isabella had been patient with him during this dalliance, and their relationship improved. For a little while, anyway. And then, it soured. Precipitously.

Following Gaveston's death, the king increased favor to his nephew-by-marriage (who was also Gaveston's brother-in-law), Hugh Despenser the Younger. But, as with Gaveston, the barons were indignant at the privileges  Edward lavished upon the Despenser father and son, especially when the younger Despenser began in 1318 to strive to procure for himself the earldom of Gloucester and its associated lands.

image With Hugh Despenser, the situation grew worse.  Edward II made similar mistakes with Despenser and his reign was challenged by the pretender John Deydras.  Deydras was eventually executed but not before Edward II’s unpopularity for his actions became even more apparent.  Eventually, Despenser was banished, but unlike Gaveston, he was not to return.  Queen Isabella had enough, and left Edward II for another lover - Mortimer.  Despenser was eventually tracked down and executed - he had his genitals cut off and burnt in a fire before his eyes.

In 1327, Edward II was imprisoned, and Isabella and her lover, Mortimer seized control of the kingdom.  After trying to escape, Mortimer eventually ordered Edward’s death. 

The government of Isabella and Mortimer was so precarious that they dared not leave the deposed king in the hands of their political enemies. On 3 April, Edward II was removed from Kenilworth and entrusted to the custody of two subordinates of Mortimer, then later imprisoned at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire where, it was generally believed, he was murdered by an agent of Isabella and Mortimer on 11 October 1327.

On the night of 11 October while lying on a bed [the king] was suddenly seized and, while a great mattress... weighed him down and suffocated him, a plumber's iron, heated intensely hot, was introduced through a tube into his anus so that it burned the inner portions beyond the intestines. — Thomas de la Moore.

It was said that the screams of the king were so loud that they could be heard miles away.

Edward III finally asserted his independence. In October 1330, a Parliament was called in Nottingham, just days before Edward's eighteenth birthday, and Mortimer and Isabella were seized by Edward and his companions from inside Nottingham Castle. In spite of Isabella’s entreaty to her son, "Fair son, have pity on the gentle Mortimer," Mortimer was conveyed to the Tower.

image Accused of assuming royal power and of various other high misdemeanors, he was condemned without trial and ignominiously hanged at Tyburn on 29 November 1330, his vast estates being forfeited to the crown. Mortimer's widow, Joan, received a pardon in 1336 and survived till 1356. She was buried beside Mortimer at Wigmore, but the site was later destroyed.

Cultural depictions of Edward II of England

Edward II of England has been portrayed in popular culture a number of times. The most famous fictional account of Edward II's reign is Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II (c. 1592). It depicts Edward's reign as a single narrative, and does not include Bannockburn.

In 1991 English filmmaker Derek Jarman adapted the Christopher Marlowe play into a film featuring Tilda Swinton, Steven Waddington, Andrew Tiernan, Nigel Terry, and Annie Lennox. The film specifically portrays a homosexual relationship between Edward II and Piers Gaveston.

Edward II was portrayed as an effeminate homosexual in Braveheart. Edward II's death and sexuality are mentioned a number of times in Michael Crichton's novel Timeline

A major new biography of Edward II by Seymour Phillips was published in 2010.

Friday, August 27, 2010

LOL of the Day


I wonder what her final grade was on this project.

Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam

clip_image002One of the most influential Victorian poems, Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam (1850) is actually 133 poetic fragments or sections that differ in theme, tone, and presentation, but are all unified by the poetic persona's grief, doubt, and search for faith. The composition of In Memoriam was initiated by Tennyson's deep suffering at the loss of his brilliant young friend, the promising poet and scholar Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly in 1833 at the age of twenty-two. Although many of the sections were written in the three years following Hallam's death, when Tennyson's grief was most acute, he continued adding to and rearranging his long poem as science and religion shook traditional beliefs in God and Christianity. Finally, in 1850, Tennyson published his lyrical elegy. Immediately well-received, it brought Tennyson considerable fame and was undoubtedly influential in the decision to appoint Tennyson as William Wordsworth's successor as British poet laureate.

Tennyson clearly does not fit into convenient categories such as "radical" or even "progressive"; rather, he, like so many of his contemporaries, clip_image004was an eager participant in the ongoing debates on gender roles and the place of emotion and commitment in a society that seemed obsessed with technological progress and the accumulation of wealth.

As part of his explorations of alternative forms for social organization and moral engagement, he looked to homosocial bonding as one source for positive (in the case of men) or negative (in the case of women) emotional ties that might have an effect upon the fragmentation that he saw around him.

But homosocial and homosexual desire are not always easily distinguishable, and certainly in In Memoriam the boundary between platonic and actively erotic forms of love seems fuzzy.

In this way, Tennyson challenges are our own ability to classify writers as "gay" and "straight." Though heterosexual, Tennyson wrote poetry dealing with love between men that is still capable of evoking a profound response from gay audiences today and that has an important place in any consideration of gay literary history.

Selections from In Memoriam:



Still onward winds the dreary way;

          I with it; for I long to prove

          No lapse of moons can canker Love,

Whatever fickle tongues may say.


And if that eye which watches guilt

          And goodness, and hath power to see

          Within the green the moulder’d tree,

And towers fall’n as soon as built–


Oh, if indeed that eye foresee

          Or see (in Him is no before)

          In more of life true life no more

And Love the indifference to be,


Then might I find, ere yet the morn

          Breaks hither over Indian seas,

          That Shadow waiting with the keys,

To shroud me from my proper scorn.


I envy not in any moods

          The captive void of noble rage,

          The linnet born within the cage,

That never knew the summer woods:


I envy not the beast that takes

          His license in the field of time,

          Unfetter’d by the sense of crime,

To whom a conscience never wakes;


Nor, what may count itself as blest,

          The heart that never plighted troth

          But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;

Nor any want-begotten rest.


I hold it true, whate’er befall;

          I feel it, when I sorrow most;

          ’Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Academic Freedom v. Church Affiliated Universities

 image Recently, Seton Hall University found itself in the middle of a controversy over a class they planned to offer.  Seton Hall University will offer a controversial course on gay marriage over the objections of Newark Archbishop John J. Myers, according to the professor scheduled to teach the class.

Seton Hall University is a private Roman Catholic university in South Orange, New Jersey, United States. Founded in 1856 by Archbishop James Roosevelt Bayley, Seton Hall is the oldest diocesan university in the United States. Seton Hall is also the oldest and largest Catholic university in the State of New Jersey. The university is known for its programs in business, law, education, nursing, and diplomacy.

A friend of mine, who is ultra-Catholic (lapsed/re-convert to Catholicism, nice guy but believes nearly everything the Catholic Church believes), tends to think that Catholic universities are getting too far away from teaching image Catholic doctrine and are thus becoming too secular.  I happen to disagree with them.  A religiously affiliated school, whether Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, etc., is first and foremost a university.  The word university comes from the Middle English word universite, from Old French, from Medieval Latin ūniversitās, from Latin, the whole, a corporate body, from ūniversus, whole.  Therefore, the word derives from a body that teaches everything and is universal.  If a university is limiting what they are teaching they are no longer serving their function as a university.  As a religious institution they have the right to teach as part of their curriculum their own brand of dogma, have certain rules regarding student behavior, etc.  However, a university should never limit academic freedom.

image What the Newark Archbishop objected to was what he saw as criticism of the church.  I have spoken about objectivity before.  A person should see both sides of the issue and be able to make their own determinations.  If you are purposely given only part of the story, then they insult your intelligence by not allowing you to make up your own mind.  When a school does that they are not longer teaching they are preaching.  Academic freedom is the most sacred institution in higher education, without we are no better than dictatorships who disallow free speech.  Our universities are their to broaden out minds not to narrow them.

I applaud Seton Hall for standing up for what is right and allowing the class on Gay Marriage to continue.

The undergraduate seminar course — called "The Politics of Gay Marriage" — is to begin Tuesday with about two dozen students, said W. King Mott, an associate professor of political science.

The quotes listed in this post are from the following article:




Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Being Put Back in the Closet

The Closet Guy

With all of my recent posts about coming out of the closet, you might wonder, why this blog is called The Closet Professor. It is simply because for years, I was out and proud. Circumstances, however, have changed, and this post is meant to explain that. I make every effort to be as honest as possible with you guys, and I am not in the business of misleading you. I felt that this post is particularly significant (maybe only for me, but there are others out there who can relate to my situation.

This is a post that I have been trying to compose for a few weeks now. It is certainly not an easy topic for me, but in the interest of being honest (as I 4595475100_48ece8d5e8_b strive to be as far as I can and keep my anonymity with you guys), I felt the need to tell this story and explain where I am currently in my life. After 8 years of being out and proud, with the attitude of “fuck ‘em” if they can’t accept that I am gay, I returned home to live with my parents for a year. My graduate funding had run out, the academic job market was in shambles, and I had a choice to make. I could either continue to work in the part time job I had, and get another job, leaving me little time to finish my dissertation, or I could move home with my parents, save some money, try to finish my dissertation, and hope to find a job the next year. If I was going to finish graduate school, my choice was clear. I had to move home.

Moving home was a very difficult decision because my parents had never come to accept my homosexuality. This was not likely to change, it was an unspoken agreement that I would end my gay “lifestyle,” and basically any social life that I had as long as I was living with them. Everything I did image would be watched and questioned by them. I would be living in a very rural area (the nearest town was an hour away). As tough of a decision as this was, I decided I could take anything for a year. It would only be a year. So, I began my year of solitude with my parents, with only short excursions to visit a friend of mine a few states away, where I could be as gay as I wanted to be, while they were hoping that I was moving away from a gay “lifestyle” and closer to a heterosexual relationship with the female friend that I was going to visit. In other words, my friend was my beard.

As I said, I thought I could take anything for a year. However, things did not go as planned, as they so rarely do. My dissertation did not progress as it image should have. There were problems with my dissertation committee. I had to restart with a new adviser. The job market did not improve, even with the President, economists, and all the other talking heads out there, proclaimed that the Great Recession was ending and the economy was improving. Higher education is the first hit by economic downfall, and the very last to recover. Politicians think that tuition can take up all of the slack of decreased budgets, but if no one can afford tuition as it is, how are they going to pay higher tuition? So I had to once again look for alternatives. I found a part-time teaching job at a local college. It got me out of the house, back to the classroom that I loved, and I had wonderful students. The adjunct class and a prescription for Prozac, markedly improved my mood. I decided to make the best of a bad situation.

I could not teach in public schools because none of my degrees were in education, so without returning to school for another masters degree or at least taking further education classes, image I could not get certified to teach in public schools. So my options began to be thus: find a job in a small private school, move to live with my friend a few states away and get any job I could find, find a position within my field but not in teaching, or remain with my parents if none of these options worked out. Moving with my friend was not a very good option. I love her, but living with her would have driven me crazy. She was fun to visit, but not to live with. I really did not want to remain under the watchful eye and scrutiny of my parents. So those two options were mostly out the window. Finding a job marginally related to my field was also not a viable option because there were not jobs to be had because of the economy. So I began, reluctantly, to look into teaching at a private school.

Most of these school are small conservative schools, with a Christian oriented curriculum, and a morality clause in their contracts. If I was hired by one of these school, discretion would be absolutely necessary. image By the way, these school rarely paid very much, about half of what I would have made at a full time position at a college. So I apply, and with my credentials, I get hired. At least, I am in a classroom again. I love teaching,and it is my passion. I just prefer to teach adults not teenagers. AD/HD and ADD is an epidemic in America. Those who teach and can deal with the stress that kids deal out to us everyday, are saints (I’m not referring to myself here, because they really try my patience most days). I tried to look on the bright side of things (as I always try to do. I strive to be an optimist.)

Then, just as I think things are going well, I have moved into my new house. I have a job, one doing what I love to do. Then I am informed, on the Friday before school starts, that my feminine behavior has been a subject of discussion. We were on another subject, dealing somewhat with the idea of me being liberal minded, when he says, "But this brings up another topic. We have at least two boys here with feminine tendencies. And since you do as image well, several of the boys are going to try you. One came up to me last night and made a comment about it. I told him that he can't be gay and be a Christian and teach here." I began to fume. I didn't show it. I just responded that I can handle these kids. They will learn that they can't push me around or show me any disrespect. I won't allow that kind of mess and I don't have the time or the patience to deal with this type of foolishness.

What I really wanted to say was this: "First of all, I can handle my own. I am more of a man than most of the men and boys at this school will ever be. I can also shoot a rifle better and more accurately than any one of them, they can just try me. It is none of your goddamn business what I do in my personal life, as long as I appear to be an upstanding citizen and I don't flaunt my "feminine tendencies." Moreover, I am in no way feminine. My voice may not be the deepest, but once any of these students make me mad, I will turn into their worst nightmare, not a drama queen."

lonely_closet_m65_b1_f6 So, as it stands, I am back in the closet. I have to finish graduate school, make myself more viable to faculty positions in higher education, and move the hell away from this hell hole. The three P’s will get me through this time in my life: Pray, Positive thinking, and Prozac (not to mention “M” for masturbation, “D” for discretion, “F” for fantasies, and “B” for all my blog buddies out there who help me stay connected to my true self—you guys make the closet not such a lonely place. THANK YOU!!! I LOVE ALL OF YOU GUYS!).

Thank you all for reading. Your comments, suggestions, and snide remarks are always welcomed. For now this will end my “Coming Out” post (I may have one more in me though), since technically I am no longer out in my public life at home. I will gladly answer most any questions you may have, and will do my best to fulfill any requests for future posts on this blog. If there is any advice I can give or information I can provide, I am more than willing to do my best.


For a follow-up to this post, please see: It’s Not All Bad…

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Naked Male Camaraderie


Let's talk about naked men…

BOTD-081310-002 For the past three decades, America seems to be getting more prudish than ever where nudity is concerned. Take the Janet Jackson episode during the Super Bowl a few years ago. Has America always been this prudish? In television and movies, yes, but in everyday life, I don’t believe the evidence supports it. John Quincy Adams used to get up two hours before sunrise to go skinny dipping in the Potomac River, and he was not even the only president to enjoy skinny dipping. Rumor has it that Harry Truman enjoyed swimming au naturel, and that Billy Graham went skinny dipping with Lyndon Johnson.
vintage_Harvard_rowing_crew_naked_5_13_09_wcmUntil the last three decades, American high school boys took showers after PE classes. Nudity in gyms showers was quite normal. Guys didn’t do the towel dance. If you were in the steam room or sauna, you went naked. You took your shower in the open, but now most guys wear towels in the steam room and sauna, and shower in private stalls.
Columbus,OhioYMCA1930s What’s so odd is that 40 years ago, nude swimming was the norm. It’s what was acceptable. Below, you can see that they even used to shower in groups before they jumped in the pool.
A paradigm shift has happened and I’m curious as to why? I really can’t help but wonder — of all the factors that have gone into this shift. The YMCAs used to enforce nude swimming and many, like the one below, even gyms right above or next to the pool. Between laps, guys would just head over and lift weights — yes, completely nude.
From the 1890s to the 1930s, men who swam at the YMCA did so in the nude, apparently wool swimsuits (the fashion of the time) clogged up the pool filters. An excerpt from the history of the Seattle YMCA gives a reason for the change:
An early casualty of gender equity was males-only nude swimming in the downtown pool. Men and boys had been accustomed to swimming au naturel at the YMCA, not only in Seattle but in Ys everywhere, since the 1890s. The practice may have evolved from problems created by the long, wool swimming suits then in fashion, which apparently shed so much they gummed up the pool filters. Later, nude swimming was justified on the grounds of hygiene. A handbook in use at the Seattle Y in the 1920s required that “A good soap bath must be taken before entering the swimming pool” in the same paragraph that specified “The wearing of swimming suits or supporters will not be allowed except by permission from the director.”
ghp-442807-ymca-pool-1YMCA2 Is gender equality the only reason for the change in nudity in all-male arenas? I doubt it. Women are still not allowed in boys locker rooms. Public baths have largely closed because of the AIDS scare, but also because of a crack down on “morality.” Could the movie Caligula be made today? It is doubtful. One of the major changes has to do with the Reagan presidency. Many Republicans venerate him because of his ushering in of patriotism (which had declined since the l_400_323_723b4073-feb0-4d8b-af3e-067fcff6b715Vietnam War), deregulation, and the Christian Right. Did the resurgence of prudish behavior begin with the Reagan administration, or did it begin before then? The Puritans supplied us with a large number of our founding fathers. Yet, as prudish and “pure” as the Puritans were, they still had more illegitimate births per capita than any other group in American history. Why? Because most of them lived on the frontier, and they could not wait to have sex until after the next time that a minister would travel through to marry them. Puritan ministers were not a populous group, so communities shared ministers, only getting a minister every few months. The same is true of the rural South during colonial times, when Anglican priests were few and far between.
The ultimate question is, with the resurging popularity of porn and the internet, why is America so prudish?

More after the JUMP.