Norton, who's lived in
London since 1974, has written several important works of gay history,
most notably Mother Clap's Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830
(The Gay Men's Press, 1992).
Dear Boy: Gay
Love Letters Through The Centuries, edited by
Rictor Norton; Gay Sunshine
Press, Box 410690, San Francisco, CA 94141; 287 pages; $15.95 (add $2 when
ordering by mail).
In 1971, Rictor Norton
taught one of the first gay and lesbian literature courses at
Florida State University.
My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters Through the Centuries, Professor Norton
wove together a comprehensive history of male love, as revealed in "Gay
love letters ... important and precious documents for the study of gay
history, and ...a resource for the
nurturing of gay love."
Though social constructionists
would argue that homosexuality as we know it is a recent phenomenon, the
fact remains that men have fallen in love with other men since time immemorial.
As Norton writes, "The love
of one man for another is the fixed root or core value upon which a gay
identity is constructed within historical constraints." Like their straight
or lesbian counterparts, homosexually-inclined men through the centuries
expressed their love in letters to their beloved.
Whether or not the romantic
expression in the letters indicates physical attraction, platonic affection,
or even literary convention - just as we address all our correspondents
as "dear" -- Norton does not hesitate to label them "gay love letters":
"[M]ost of the writers selected are confessedly head-over-heels in love
with another man, and no phrase so satisfactorily describes their correspondence
as 'gay love letters.'" "Gay love letters are the manifest emblems
of the primordial self, what [Pier Paolo] Pasolini called the 'fossil'
of homosexual love."
Most gay love letters are
lost, destroyed by the recipients, outraged relatives, or the passage of
time. Others survived, and are the source of this collection. Though the
letters range across the centuries and continents, they share in the common
theme of love between men, which comes through in spite of every prohibition.
Letters from St. Anselm to
Gundulf, from Desiderius Erasmus to Servatius Rogerus, from
Johann Winckelman to F.W. Lamprecht, and from Ludwig II to Richard Wagner
all speak the language of love that every gay man can understand, even
if the love did not always work out.
Through their gay love letters,
some of the greatest men in history come down from their pedestals, revealing
their more human sides. Though the letters share a common theme, they reflect
the uniqueness of the authors: Marcus Aurelius' letters take on a
philosophical bent, while
those written by Bo Juyi are love poems.
Some of the letters are romantic,
as when Alexander Hamilton, "Cold in my profession -warm in my friendships"
wishes to convince John Laurens that he loves him. Other are earthy, as
when Peter Orlovsky asks Allen Ginsberg to "come on over and blow me".
Letter writers as diverse as Michelangelo, Hans Christian Andersen and
Colin Spencer cover the whole spectrum of male relationships, from make-out
to break-up and everything in-between.
My Dear Boy was nominated
for a Lambda Literary Award in the category of Non-Fiction Anthology. It
is a valuable historical resource. Even more importantly, it reminds us
of the resilience and universality of male love. Give a copy to the man
Unlike traditional Judaism,
Christianity and Islam, Buddhism does not have a history of
homophobia. "Buddhism," according
to Kobai Scott Whitney, "seemed silent on the issue of sexual preference,
and this helped make it accessible and attractive to gay people." "Despite
the ambivalence concerning homosexuality in Buddhist history, the evidence
seems to suggest that as a whole Buddhism has been for the most part neutral
on the question of homosexuality," adds Jose Ignacio Cabezon. "The principal
question for Buddhism has not been one of heterosexuality vs. homosexuality
but one of sexuality vs. celibacy."
Dharma: Voices of Gay Buddhists, edited by Winston Leyland;
Gay Sunshine Press; 416 pages; $19.95 (add $2 when ordering by mail).
A recent issue in Time magazine
examined the increased popularity of Buddhism in the United States. That
many American Buddhists are gay or lesbian should be no surprise.
Even the Dalai Lama, the
most respected leader of a Buddhist sect, is ambiguous on the
subject of homosexuality.
However you might interpret
it, all in all Buddhism has been more gay-friendly than traditional Western
faiths. Gay Sunshine's Winston Leyland, himself a Buddhist within the Tibetan
Nyingma tradition, brought together the various strands of gay male Buddhism
in the anthology Queer
Dharma: Voices of Gay Buddhists.
"Planning the volume, I decided
on a multi-cultural approach: historical essays, fiction,
poetry, but with the main emphasis on articles by practitioners from various
traditions (Zen, Vipassana, Tibetan, etc.) on the integration of their
gay sexuality and Buddhist practice."
The poetry and prose in Queer
Dharma represents the diversity of the gay Buddhist experience, from hermits
like Whitney and scholars like Cabezon to "garden variety" queers who practice
Buddhism in the course of an active life. Poets like John Giorno and the
late Allen Ginsberg share a forum with Christopher Osborne, a teenager
who "survived" high school in the heartland as an openly gay Buddhist.
Though Osborne was verbally and physically attacked by religious and sexual
bigots, he is quick to point out that "there is wisdom one can gain through
being a practicing gay Buddhist in a closed Christian community."
Queer Dharma was nominated
for a Lambda Literary Award in the category of Spirituality and Religion.
Even non-Buddhists can learn from its wisdom and poetry.
Nook Briefs: Leathermen everywhere know and revere Larry Townsend.
Larry's leatherotic novels, and his classic Leatherman's Handbooks set
the standards for gay and bisexual men into leather, SM, or fetish lifestyles.
In 1972 Townsend founded
L.T. Publications to publish his own work as well as those of other leather/SM-oriented
writers. One of the latter is Jack Fritscher, whose latest collection of
short stories, Rainbow Country ($14.95), was published by LT Publications.
Townsend's three latest books
(all published by LT) show his mastery of various literary genres. The
Case of the Severed Head ($8.95) is a murder mystery set in West Hollywood's
gay community. Master of Masters($14.95) is a leatherotic science fiction
novel, illustrated by the incomparable Sean. Of Men, Ropes and Remembrance
($12.95) is a collection of bondage stories that originally appeared in
Bound & Gagged magazine. All can be ordered from the publisher, Box
302, Beverly Hills, CA 90213. Add $2 postage