Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Book Rescue

I rescued three paperback books from the wastebasket at the Morningside Heights branch of the New York Public Library. Two of them are by the French writer Marguerite Yourcenar (1903-1987): A Coin in Nine Hands and Two Lives and a Dream. (The third book, Marianne Moore, is a study of her life and poetry.)

My introduction to Yourcenar was a Selected Shorts reading on the radio of one of her short stories. I'm looking forward to reading her two books. Skimming through them, they looked very inviting.

To get a little background on her, I consulted my copy of The Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage and learned that Yourcenar "was a lesbian who spent forty-two years with the same woman; yet she spoke of homosexuality in her work almost exclusively through male characters."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Telling A Story About The Comfort Zone

The following is a letter sent to Paul Schindler, the editor of the New York-based Gay City News. It was written on January 3, 2008:

Dear Paul: I was trying to respond to a comment posted by Mike Holliday at the tail end of my Comfort Zone [underwear sex party] story but was unable to. Holliday wanted an authoritative, analytical , investigative article. I am not an investigative reporter or a gay leader with an ax to grind. I write feature stories; I am a storyteller. "Showing Your Laundry"[ Gay City News, December 20, 2007] is typical of the type of stories I wrote for the New York Native in the eighties. I was documenting a black gay venue so that years from now historians and other academic types will have a written record of it.

As to it being "a puff piece," I disagree. If Holliday had carefully read the story, he would have noted my criticisms. That's why I contrasted the Comfort Zone and Mount Morris Baths. Mount Morris was doing real community service with the many programs it sponsored. For all I know, Holliday might be a disgruntled customer looking for someone to find dirt on the Comfort Zone. That was not my intention. I saw an opportunity to write about a phenomenon that was interesting and about a personality [E.J. Parker] who was compelling and, at times, funny.

I look forward to reading other comments from readers. Two of my friends have read the story. One thought it was hilarious. The other thought I should have been more objective and that I showed anger that Mount Morris [where I was employed for two and a half years] is no longer around. (I disagreed with him about that.)

Anyway, who wants to read a dry as bones, put-you-to-sleep analysis of a sex club in a newspaper?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Origin Of The Schmoo

Here's an interesting word: schmo, which means a boob or a jerk. According to The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Yiddish, "Al Capp (born Caplan), the cartoonist and originator of the Li'l Abner comic strip, created the schmoo: a lovable creature who adores being kicked and gives milk as a reward for being abused."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On Poverty

"Poverty is no disgrace--which is the only good thing you can say about it."--Yiddish proverb, from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Yiddish.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Speaking Out Against Gay Racism

The following is a letter-to-the-editor I sent to the Philadelphia Gay News (aka PGN). The letter was published in 1986:

"Dear Editor: [Author] Darrell Yates-Rist has been described in PGN (Aug. 8, 1986) as being angry and outspoken about lesbian oppression by gay men, as well as internal and external homophobia. However, nowhere in Victoria Brownworth's article did he speak against one of the most pervasive evils in the gay community--racism. Where was his voice when gay racism was being denounced in the press and on picket lines? Does he see it as a less important issue than the "legalization of discrimination" by the U.S. Supreme Court or the exclusion of lesbians?

Yates-Rist points out that "women are necessary to the movement." I agree with him. But so too are gays and lesbians of color. Most, if not all, of the Stonewallers were people of color. Without them, the gay movement might never have come about. Part of the process of "educating our community about who we are" is the willingness to acknowledge and appreciate the ethnic and racial diversity of gay and lesbian people."

PGN sent my letter to Yates-Rist. Instead of responding in the pages of the newspaper, he sent a letter to my home address. The envelope had PGN's return address rather than his. (The envelope had a New York postmark.)

I never responded to the letter. At the time, Yates-Rist was suffering from full-blown AIDS. To me his vitriolic response was from a man whose mind had been affected by the disease. For him to say that my letter was the result of "knee-jerk hatred" was delusional.

The following is Yates-Rist's letter dated November 15 of 1986:

"Dear Charles: Regarding your letter to PGN on my silence on racism, I must reply ardently.

Simply because this one interview did not include remarks on racial issues, one cannot deduce my activism, or lack of it, against racial bigotry.

I have, in fact, throughout my career spoken out loudly on racism generally, and specifically in the gay and lesbian community, and I have persistently addressed racism within organizational politics. But since I see no reason to defend myself in the face of your ignorance, I spare the details.

Like racism, misogyny, and homophobia, however, spite towards one's fellow man in general demeans humanity and the common good. Your attack against me, vicious and baseless, is warning enough that you are so full of knee-jerk hatred that you're not to be trusted among people of good will." [Emphasis is mine.]