LOVE, VARIETIES OF

In the 1950's and 1960's there were continuing and intensifying attacks on gay playwrights by theatre critics, most notably those at the NY Times. The criticism was centred on the perceived cloaking of gay relationships in heterosexual disguise and the supposed inauthenticity of heterosexual characters in plays by gay writers. Their presentation on stage of the dissatisfactions of women was depicted as misogyny. The careers of William Inge, Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee were among the casualties of these attacks. This line of homophobic criticism has of course continued on through the decades and also targeted the ability of gay actors to portray straight characters. Witness for instance the 2010 criticism of American actors Sean Hayes and Jonathan Groff in Newsweek magazine. In mid-1975 the Globe & Mail seemed to think the moment called for a particularly derivative rehashing of the same-old-same-old.

It seemed worthwhile putting this letter to the editor here. It helps to further illustrate what the media were like in the 1970's. And how old refrains keep on repeating, no matter how times supposedly change.

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Love, Varieties Of -- Globe & Mail, July 1, 1975

John Hofsess is upset with the portrayal of women and heterosexual relationships by Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams and Peter Shaffer (The Equine Strategy, etc.-June 14).

Feeling these playwrights camouflage homosexual situations as heterosexual in their work, he goes on to chastise other unnamed gay writers for this same supposed act, accusing them also of an unsympathetic attitude toward women. If in fact some homosexual writers have been guilty of vindictive attitudes, as Mr. Hofsess suggests, it would take a discussion of each writer in turn to decide who they were, rather than the innuendo which links particular sexual orientations with particular attitudes.

Mr. Hofsess is speaking of male writers and what could be said perhaps is that some male writers, both homosexual and heterosexual, have exhibited derogatory attitudes toward women in their work. But that's another ball game. Certainly the act by which a writer will create a character and call it Martha or Blanche and have it accepted by the public whether or not it is a realistically female characterization is something more heterosexual than homosexual writers can be called to account for.

The suggestion that gay writers often disguise homosexual relationships in a cloak of heterosexuality is suspect. More typically a gay writer who does not openly present gay characters is one who will refrain from attempting to deal with gay relationships at all. There is certainly nothing wrong with a writer using themes obvious in gay life in some other context when those themes are in fact universal. Part of the basis for Mr Hofsess' thoughts is his belief he has detected something emotionally inaccurate in the depiction of heterosexual relationships by some gay writers. This is not an automatic signal that the writer is in fact dealing with a homosexual situation. It does say one of two things though. Either Mr. Hofsess has a personally limited viewpoint or the writer's observations are incorrect.

To my mind, homosexuality is in no way the barrier some heterosexuals continually proclaim it to be. It requires an absence of thought to say that gay writers, by definition, do not possess knowledge of women or heterosexual relationships and should not write about these things. John Hofsess may perhaps declare he did not say this but it is the sum of his words.

The Saturday (June 21) following the Hofsess essay a review of a Tennessee Williams novel appeared. In that review Miriam Waddington took time out to deliver a sermon on loving human relationships. Apparently true love is heterosexual and "a homosexual relationship no matter how loving and tender" just doesn't make the grade. Ah well...intellectualized snobbery will be forever with us, I suppose. It seems in her theology of true relationships the essence of love is the meeting of "vagina" and "penis", brought together by a desire to procreate and thus "defeat death and satisfy...hunger for immortality". Heterosexuals have now had it revealed to them why they love the people they love. No doubt the pill will be immediately banned as a homosexual plot and threat to personal Immortalization.

When Miriam Waddington salvaged these barnacle-encrusted hulks of theory from the mysterious deep did she really expect them to float? What her analyses are in need of more than anything else is a set of water wings.

But enough is enough. John Hofsess disapproves of Equus and isn't too fond of Blanche Dubois either. Miriam Waddington casting aspersion and breathing benevolence (she likes Jean Genet) at the same time, does and doesn't like Moise And The World Of Reason. Fine. But if people are going to review sexuality and sexual orientation in The Globe and Mail could a reader ask for maybe just a little originality of thought?