Byline: Brad Gooch
How American gay writers became history.
Once a month or so during the 1970s, I had dinner at Joe LeSueur's teeny East Village apartment. Dinner was all gay guys, crammed into a little living room. Allen Ginsberg (living nearby) had nailed the issue in an elegy for the poet Frank O'Hara when he wrote of his gift for "deep gossip." That was the lingua franca of the after-dinner dish sessions at LeSueur's, bleary data dumps that were actually history lessons, full of information passed only by word of mouth, because the subjects were too marginal or the material too outre.
Yet most of the gossip concerned literary history, or the messy lives and under-the-radar goings-on of gay male poets, novelists, and playwrights. My ears tingled as I learned that W.H. Auden's lover, Chester Kallman, would step out many nights to walk to the piers on the West Side to have sex with sailors; that Christopher Isherwood was a "chicken hawk" and portraitist Don Bachardy a California teen when they met.
Referring to life, Omar Khayyam was accurate enough about the moving finger writing and, having writ, moving on. But then sometimes there's the afterlife, when someone snaps open a laptop and writes down a facsimile of what the finger wrote. This reaction time between the life and gossip and its codification as history has been attenuated for gay writers. But proof that this speakeasy is now officially closed for business and open for museum gazing is Christopher Bram's Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America. As Bram's subtitle promises--and these lives from Vidal through Kushner deliver--gay lib began as a literary movement; the aesthetic was always political, too. …