Nixon, Myself, and Others
In the mid-twentieth century, gay figures created much of modern American culture—the sounds of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, the words and moods of Stanley and Blanche in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, the songs and dances of West Side Story. If there was a gay moment in American culture, it occurred then as much as now, despite recent attention to television programs like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and queer people from Ellen DeGeneres to Tony Kushner. Uneven across fields, the gay presence was sufficient to disturb many observers, who imagined a vast homintern—a homosexual international conspiracy in the arts parallel to the Comintern, or Communist International, in politics. “Homintern,” a word probably invented in jest by gay men but seized upon by their enemies, alternated with terms like “homosexual mafia” to conjure up a queer menace.1 This book explores the gay presence in the arts, how Americans once understood it, and how we might understand it now.
The arrival of many groups on the stage of cultural production has triggered consternation—witness reactions to Jews and African Americans in the arts early in the twentieth century—but reactions are not uniform across time and groups. They depend on prior perceptions of a group, its cultural role, and the circumstances of its arrival. America's global conflicts—World War II and the Cold War—magnified and defined the contributions of queer artists, this book argues, and shaped a Lavender Scare in the arts.2 In turn, the disruptions of America's Cold War, culture, and society in the late 1960s fractured the homintern discourse. When anxieties about America's cultural empire peaked, with artists deployed as Cold War weapons alongside astronauts and diplomats, so too did scrutiny of the queer artist. When anxieties subsided, so too did scrutiny.
Three themes—the homintern discourse, authenticity, and cultural empire—run through this story. That discourse expressed anxiety about American cultural empire through a language of authenticity central to American life in the 1950s and 1960s. Anxious observers depicted gay artists as psychologically and creatively inauthentic—at best possess-