Jesse Monteagudo’s Book Nook
My 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. 

 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). 

In 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 you love. 
Queer 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.  

 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."  

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. 

Book 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