It’s been way too long since I spent part of a Saturday morning composing one of these posts about a news story that I learned about after already assembling this week’s Friday Five. Let’s just hop in:
More than one person I saw online (most of them either queer themselves or presenting themselves as allies) made a joke about the reason that so much of the LGBTQ community in the U.S. have rushed to get our vaccinations is because we’re all just dying to get out there and start hooking up for sex again.
And I know that is a sentiment many had expressed. Or that they missed going to bars or concerts and so on.
But I’m sorry, the friend I quoted in the caption of the graphic above has hit the nail on the head identifying not just why many of us got the vaccine as soon as we could, but also why most of the queer communities in various U.S. towns and cities, canceled 2020 Pride events mere weeks after the first lockdowns were announced.
For a lot of us, this isn’t the first time we have lived during a deadly epidemic.
In May of 2020, there was one of the Fox /(Propaganda/) network talking heads who tried to get a viral thing going about how all the queers and their liberal friends would stop supporting the idea of lockdown once late June rolled around at Pride Parades were cancelled.
She instead was dragged on social media and news sites with the fact that we’d already canceled the Pride Parades, on our own at least a month previously. I remember just weeks into the first lockdowns that on several queer forums people had already been posting, "We’re canceling in-person Pride events, right?"
I know I’ve told the following story on this blog and else where before: but there was one month in the early nineties where 12 people that I knew personally died from complications of AIDS. In a couple of cases, my late husband, Ray, and I had to decide which of the memorial services we weren’t going to attend. And that was after years of watching vibrant people we knew deteriorate before our eyes and die. It’s not that that was the only time a bunch happened close together, it just happened to be the worst.
For years we watching our neighbors, friends, acquaintances, community leaders, and more suffer and die with virtually no help from government health agencies. There were exceptions. Dr. Anthony Fauci famously (incognito) went to bathhouses and some other places queer men went looking for sex to get a better idea of the cultural reasons that a disease which could be transmitted sexually had spread so quickly. But most responses were like this:
The headline on that particular article at the site doesn’t mention what I think is a crucial aspect of those chilling recordings: most of the laughter you hear at the very idea that the government would concern itself at all with a deadly disease that was perceived as killing gays were members of the so-called liberal media.
In the early years hospital staff didn’t want to treat AIDS patients. What treatments that were offered were anti-viral medications most of which had been developed a decade or so before under military research grants because we were afraid future soldiers would face biological weapons in the field during conflicts. They actually hoped to develop a drug that would allow every soldier to be issued a few pills along with their other equipment and if they thought they’d been hit with a bio-weapon, they could take the pills and keep fighting. Didn’t quite work out.
But they were the only thing that seemed to slow down the virus, even though there were often some pretty severe side-effects.
In the early 90s someone came up with the idea of putting patients on not just one anti-viral, but three or more that each attacked different parts of typical viral replication process. By 1995, the so-called "antiviral cocktails" were approved for general use.
The result was startling.
It seemed like a miracle. Some people who were already very sick and looked like shadows of their former selves seemed to rejuvenate in a matter of months.
Unfortunately, those anti-viral drugs are very expensive. If you need three or more in combination, that makes things even worse. So the cocktails have only performed their apparently miracles in countries that have reliable health care.
And note that it isn’t a cure. It’s not really a miracle (unless you want to talk about the insane profit margins of the pharmaceutical companies). Because in order to stay alive and healthy, people infected with the HIV virus have to take those very expensive drug combinations (which still often have wicked side effects) every day for the rest of their lives.
We don’t have an HIV vaccine. Forty years into the epidemic that still kills hundreds of thousands of people world wide every year doesn’t have a vaccine.
Queer people younger than me, who don’t have the same personal memories of the worse part of the HIV epidemic, still had their lives overshadowed by the disease. Because despite the fact that most new infections in the U.S. these days are straight people (that’s right!), and most of the people who are dying in the so-called developing world are straight women and children, the perception is still that AIDS is a "gay thing." I linked a year or two ago to a poignant story a young cartoonist posted about how when he was 15 years old and had never had sex with anyone, he went to an anonymous clinic for an AIDS test–because all he knew about the disease was the gay people got it. Nothing he had been taught in school or seen in the news or what very few media portrayals of people dying of the disease there were at the time, had conveyed two very important facts: 1) any human can get infected by the virus that causes AIDS, 2) it is most often transmitted sexually.
And part of his story is talking about when he came out in in twenties and started meeting other gay people, virtually all of them approximately his age had gone through a period in their teens where, after realizing they were attracted to members of their own sex, they also assumed that meant they would die young because of AIDS.
My point is, that once these younger queers do find out that his horrible specter which was part of their trauma growing up queer and closeted is a disease that was ignored for decades? Well, their attitude about health issues is a lot like us older queers.
And so that is the real reason that so many of us rushed out to get vaccinated. We know what happens when a health crisis is ignored. And we damn well refuse to take part in ignoring this one.
Miss Piggy was aggressively straight, yet it took decades to acknowledge the existence of Muppets who aren’t straight
I first began following Matt Baum when he was posting regular video news reports on what was then the fight over civil unions vs full marriage equality for queer people. A few years later he branched out into other topics, and over the course of those years I came to realize that we had a bunch of mutual acquaintances. And yet I still have never met him.
One of his projects is producing videos where he analyses ways the queer people and queer issues were handled in popular media, such as situation comedies of the ’70s, ’80s, and beyond. This week, he tackles one of the pivotal people behind the Muppets, who happened to be a gay man, and how that influenced and eventually changed the Muppets.
This isn’t the first I have hear of Richard Hunt and his contribution to one of my favorite media properties, but Matt weaves in video clips and quotes from people who worked with Hunt that I have never heard before. So give it a watch.
I probably should mention that a couple parts of the story made me cry. But I am a really big softie who is very easily moved to tears:
Assuming you’ve watched it, I want to expound a little bit on the topic that I put into the headline. It isn’t just that for many years the corporations controlling the Muppets as well as important performers from the troupe would insist emphatically that, for instance, Bert and Ernie were absolutely not gay. They would (Sometimes angrily) insist that because the Muppets were puppets, they could not possiblye *have a sexual orientation.
Despite the fact the Miss Piggy wasn’t just obviously heterosexual, but she was aggressively so from the nearly her very first appearance. A Piggy wasn’t the only one. Lots of female Muppets had (usually off-screen) husbands and boyfriends. A smaller number of male Muppets had wives and girlfriends.
Yes, technically, puppets don’t have a sexual orientation. But it is exactly equally true that they don’t technically have voices, either–those are provided by the humans operating them. Just as the personalities are provided by the operators and the script writers.
I’m glad that the people currently running the Muppets have finally begun embracing the truth the queer people are everywhere and that we’ve always been here. A lot of the world still doesn’t understand that when someone identifies they are gay, it is not about sex. Just as when a conservative businessman introduces people to his wife, we aren’t "shoving out sexuality down your thoart" — we’re just telling you about ourselves and at least one of the people we love.
Carl Nassib—former All-America football player for Penn State, who has since played in the NFL on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cleveland Browns, and currently the Las Vegas Raiders—came out as gay earlier this week in a video in which he also announced he had made a large donation to the Trevor Project, and explained why people ought to also donate to the largest non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of suicide among LGBTQ youth.
Members of his own team and leaders within the National Football League management immediately chimed in with messages of support and congratulations. The internet erupted with other people reacting with encouragement—given that other gay NFL players have never felt it was safe to come out, and the only gay player who was out before he was drafted was not met with anything that could be described as a welcoming attitude from the league just seven years ago.
So it was a bit of a surprise that the league seemed to be reacting supportively.
Not everyone reacted quite so well: While NFL player Carl Nassib comes out, homophobes go overboard pretending that they don’t care.
All of those homophobes have been screaming that they don’t care, and then making the angry bad attempts at sexual insults. Coincidentally, on one of my other blogs, another homophobe sent me some angry messages in response to my posting of several Pride Month images. The phrase, “No one f—ing cares!” was repeated several times in those messages, too.
First, anyone who angrily yells or posts a comment asserting that “No one cares” when a queer person expresses anything about their lives, has just admitted that they care entirely way too much. They have also admitted that they are hateful bigots who lose their temper any time they are reminded that not everyone is straight.
Nassib responded to the people those (disingenuous) questions asking why he has to make an announcement. “Studies have shown that all it takes is one accepting adult to decrease the risk of an LGBTQ kid attempting suicide by 40%. Whether you’re a friend, a parent, a coach, or a teammate — you can be that person.”
One of the first studies to show that was published by the George H.W. Bush administration. Bush tasked the National Institutes of Health with determining how to reduce teen suicide, and the conclusion was that the most teen suicides would be if parents were encouraged to tell their children that they would still love and accept them if they were gay.
This is one of the reasons I say every year around National Coming Out Day and during Pride Month that queer adults should be out. It makes your life better not to constantly hiding a secret and fearing discovering, but it also makes it more likely that younger queer people will live—period.
So, I’m happy for Nassib. Even if it does mean that I have to reinstate the search on my DVR to record Raiders games, again.
It’s the fifth anniversary of the worst mass killing of queer people in U.S. history. Before the 49 victims of the Pulse massacre, the worst single event had been the UpStairs Lounge arson attack on June 24, 1973 in New Orleans.
I see that certain news sites and deplorables are once again trying to push the narrative that this event was a hate crime directed against queer people. I explained why they are wrong last year: Four years after the Pulse massacre and don’t feel the need to re-hash everything, other than to point out the the shooter’s own father was one of the people who thought the club had been picked because of how much his son hated queer people and that his son had ranted a lot the week before the shooting about how marriage equality was proof that American culture had embraced evil.
On this night five years ago, a lot of people were at Pulse celebrating Latinx Night as one of several Pride Month activities at the bar. They went out to have fun, to dance, to be with other queer people. To celebrate life. To celebrate Pride. To celebrate the concept that love is love.
Forty-nine of them never came home that night. I don’t personally know any of them, but when I am reminded of that night, I cry just as hard as a did when I was first reading news reports of the even the next morning. Because queer people are my tribe. Queer people are my community.
And the biggest fear I have had since realizing I was gay, is that some day a hater is going to kill me or someone I love because we’re queer.
Four years later, the Pulse massacre is still a gut punch.
A few years ago I wrote a blog post about, among other things, why white folks such as myself should amplify the voices of people of color when they talk about matters of concern to their communities: Queer Plus, or Intersectionality Isn’t Just a Noun — more adventures in dictionaries. So, when Lil Nas X released his new single, "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)" along with its even more creative/compelling music video, I figured that since the them was about coming out as a gay man within the African-American community and reconciling the teachings of his childhood church with his lived reality, my job was not to pontificate, but share links. So a couple of weeks ago I linked to the video and to two articles about it in the Friday Five.
I thought the video spoke for itself, though the two articles did offer some context.
I thought my work here was done. Until this week when a news site I read just about every day posted an op-ed about how brilliantly Lil Nas X used the conservative outrage machine to make the video go viral before the single was available to stream or buy.
It started out with a fair assessment, but then things went pear-shaped. Nas and his fans and supporters crossed a line, you see. They (or rather we – I’m an unabashed fan) betrayed our religious neighbors because we failed to understand that those religious people sincerely believe that the devil is literally the source of evil in the world.
When I read that bit, I said "What the f–!" out loud, then re-read the entire paragraph to make sure I was following the guy’s point correctly. On the second reading I noticed another bit that had slipped past me. He notes that recently polling finds that 47% of Americans say that they belong to a church, synagoge, or mosque, and then later he asserts that those 47% of all Americans are the people offended by Lil Nas X’s latest video. But also, yes, he definitely said we were all being insensitive to the sincerely held beliefs of the most conservative religious people who took offense at the video.
Before I explain how bass-ackwards this i, in case you you haven’t seen the video, here is a summary. Young Lil Nas is portrayed in an idyllic field playing a guitar, when a huge sinister serpent whispers in his ear and leads Nas away. A group f blue-heaired drag queens admonish and scold Nas, and eventually he hops on a stipper pole, slides down into into Hell. Where he gives the Devil a lap dance, before stealing the devil’s horns, causing the devil to explode, and then Nas sits on the throne.
Nas, by the way, plays almost every character in the video.
So it’s one way of describing the journey of a queer man raised in a conservative religion. You start out just innocently being yourself. You become aware of desires you have that you have been told are wrong. You get bullied and or rejected by the community of faith. Eventually you realize your truth is stronger than the lies you were told. You embrace your true self. Unfortunately there will always be those who continue to believe the lies, and now they see you as the evil one.
The entire point of that metaphor in the video is that many of the haters believe that the devil is literal and the source of all evil. The entire point is that they tell us – again and again – that we are tools of that literal source of evil. It is part of the dehumanizing process. Queer people, in their minds, don’t deserve rights or respect or even the chance to live because we aren’t actually people, we are merely tools of the devil.
At no point in the writing of the song, the recording of the song, the filming of the video, nor in the writing of the poignant letter to his younger self that accompanies it, did Lil Nas X ever forgot that those bigot sincerely believe in the devil.
It’s not betrayal; it’s holding up a mirror and saying, "This is what you believe? Own it!"
And while we’re on the subject, not all of the Americans who belong to a church or another house of worship are anti-gay bigots and Biblical literalists. A whole lot of progressive, pro-queer straight people belong to and regularly attend church in this country. Not only that, a lot of out and proud queer people do, too.
Once again, a concern troll has looked at an act of self-defense from a bullied, oppressed survival of an abusive religion, and construed it as an unprovoked attack.
I’ve said many times that I’m not an ex-Christian because I just decided one day to give the church the finger. I’m an ex-Christian because the church I was raised in rejected me and actively drove me away. Long before I understood what was different about me, the church told me again and again that queers were abominations to the loathed and punished, spurned and ostracized. While out of the other side of their mouth, they claimed god’s love was unconditional and insisted that they were instruments of that love.
Then, as soon as they see us for who we are, the bullying and abuse begins. Unconditional love is only for people who conform to their beliefs. Now that is betrayal.
Calling their betrayal out, particularly of our childhood selves, is not a betrayal. It is a reckoning.
Statistics are seldom simple — or, a queer survivor unpacks survival, visibility, and feeling safe to be out
Last week I posted this story in the Friday Five: 5.6% of American adults say they are LGBTQ. Over half identify as bisexual – The number of LGBTQ Americans coming out and claiming their identity just keeps growing. Digging beyond the headline, a lot of people focused on the generational chart (pictured above): Millennials (folks born between 1981 and 1996) are about four-and-a-half times more likely to identify as queer than Boomers (folks born between 1946-1964), while Gen-Z (folks born after 1996) are nearly eight times more likely than Boomers to identify as something other than heterosexual.
The story was published early in the week and I kept seeing various hot takes on the results. I was a little surprised at just how many people were willing to leap to the conclusion that younger people are only saying that they are queer to be cool.This ignores several facts that would disproportionately reduce the number of queer people in those less-young generations responding to this survey. Not the least of which is that many of them are literally not alive to respond. Twitter user @mike_i_guess sums up much of what I’d like to say on the matter, though I would use the term “contemporaries” rather than peers:
“The lack of boomer LGBTQ+ people isn’t because it’s ‘more popular now.’ Many were murdered by they peers, died from government inaction during the AIDS crisis, committed suicide due to lack of social supports, or have had to live in the closet due to their peers’ cruelty.”
I want to unpack that a bit. We don’t really have statistics on hate crimes before the passage of the federal Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, and even then crimes against trans people (or those perceived to be trans) weren’t counted until the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2010 was signed into law. But queer people have been subject to bashings and murder for decades. The longer one lives, the more opportunities there are to fall victim to such crime.
It’s been known for a long time that queer people, particularly queer children and teens, are far more likely to attempt suicide than their straight contemporaries, and the statistical analysis is that the disparity is entirely due to the stress of homophobic abuse and related issues. Preliminary studies show a slight decrease in those numbers for teens and children since about 2012, as growing acceptance of queer adults in society has given more of them hope of a happy future.
Then there are health care issues. Numerous studies show that queer people are more likely to experience interruptions in health care coverage, are less likely to be forthcoming with their health care providers, and less likely to receive the same quality of health care as their straight contemporaries. It’s a complicated result of both systemic and direct homophobia. Lots of people operate under the mistaken notions that bigotry only exists in a small number of people who actively hate others because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, et cetera, but it’s a lot more subtle than that.
For instance, let’s talk about the bit about interruptions in health care coverage. For years in the U.S. one’s health insurance (if you have it) is provided by your employer. Most people don’t get to choose their coverage, they have to take what’s offered by their employer. Which means if you get laid off or otherwise lose your job, your health coverage goes away. Queer people are disproportionately likely to be let go when a Reduction In Force hits a workplace. They are also less likely to get promotions and more likely to earn less than their straight co-workers who received similar job performance reviews and have similar experience. This is not because most managers are actively homophobic. It is a combination of a lot of unconscious processes.
For example, if a queer person doesn’t feel safe being out in the workplace, they will police themselves constantly to make sure they don’t let telling details of their personal life slip. While straight co-workers will be sharing stories about things they did with the children over the weekend, or a project they worked on with their spouse, or even issues with an ex-spouse or in-laws they don’t get along with, the closeted co-worker remains mum. The closeted working can’t talk about their partner freely or in detail. So they limit themselves to very vague generalities are just politely comment on the other person’s remarks. This is perceived as being unfriendly. Not sharing personal details after another person shares some of theirs is considered anti-social. So the closeted queer employee is perceived as being less of a team player, aloof, and so forth. This has a deleterious effect on every aspect of employment, including as mentioned above an increased likelihood of being one of the people let go if there are lay-offs.
Even more dangerous is the tendency of some health care professionals not to take as seriously symptoms reported by a queer person. I have a very personal example of this. In the very early 1990s I had a series of weird health events. It took over a year for my doctor and two specialists to figure out what the underlying problem was. Before that diagnosis, I had a number of incidents that required me going to an emergency room.
One time, I had been unable to keep any food down. Soon I was running a fever and it reach the point that even trying to sip plain wanter sent me running to the bathroom and left me curled up with horrible pain in my stomach after I threw up the water. Eventually, Ray (my now late-husband) convinced me to let him take me to the hospital.
We had one bit of good luck. As we were checking in, a nurse who just happened to be coming to the front to give the admin person some information related to another patient, noticed how bad I looked. She asked a couple of questions, then pinched my forearm, before telling the admin person, “He’s extremely dehydrated and need to be put on an IV right away.”
I was whisked off, put on an IV, had my vitals taken. Not long after another nurse came in and drew a bunch of blood, asked questions, and finished filling out the admission form. Some time later the initial nurse dropped by to say her shift was ending, but before she left she wanted to see for herself if the fluids they were pumping into me were helping. My fever was down, I felt a lot better, and apparently I looked a lot better.
Then we just waited. I don’t know how long I laid there. Ray got very impatient and went to ask when someone was going to check on us. I think I was on my third unit of fluid at that point. A doctor showed up, asked a bunch of questions, checked a few things, and told us they were still waiting for a couple of the blood tests to come in. Some time after that the doctor reappeared, alone with a nurse who changed out the fluid bag again. The doctor explained that the blood tests were inconclusive, but he suspected I had a rare form of ulcer that his caused by a particular kind of infection of the stomach lining, so he was prescribing some pills that would help with that. He said that as soon as I was rehydrated enough that I had to go to the bathroom, I’d been discharged. I should keep taking the pills for the rest of the weekend (it was a Saturday night), and see my regular doctor on Monday.
I fell asleep on the drive home. And pretty much slept through all of Sunday. I was able to keep broth, plain water, and tea down, so I thought the pills were helping.
The next morning, I left a message with my boss saying I was sick and hoping to see my doctor that day. I had just hung up and was going to look up my doctor’s phone number when the doctor’s office called us. They’d gotten the information from the hospital and my regular doctor was not happy. They wanted me to come right away, bring all of the paperwork the hospital had given me, “And if you haven’t taken any of those pills today, don’t take any more!”
My doctor wasn’t just unhappy, he was royally pissed. The pills I had been given had nothing to do with ulcers or infections of any kind. They were tranquilizers. Among the notes from the ER doctor was the phrase, “Gay male patient claims he doesn’t have AIDS.” His diagnosis was that I was probably just overreacting to “unremarkable symptoms.”
My doctor wanted to know why I had gone to that hospital instead of one that was much closer to my home (where he happened to be a resident, and would have been called as soon as I was admitted, instead of him finding it out when they pulled faxes off the machine Monday morning). I explained that my employer had recently changed our insurance plan and there was exactly one ER in the city that was considered in network. He explained that the particular hospital I had gone to had a number of doctors like this one guy who 1) assumed every gay male patient was infected with the virus that causes AIDS, and 2) there isn’t anything you can do for AIDS patients, anyway, so don’t waste a lot of time on them.
The blood tests that came back before they admitted me clearly indicated that in addition to the fever and other symptoms I did have some kind of serious infection. But the medicine prescribed wouldn’t treat any infections. Tests results that had come back after they let me go gave my doctor a good guess as to what kind of infection I did have, and he prescribed something that actually would work against. Then my doctor walked me through the process of filing a formal complaint. Which he was also doing.
The upshot was that I received a partial refund from the hospital of my out-of-pocket for the ER visit. My doctor pried a letter out of my insurance company saying that the hospital close to my house would be covered as in-network. But just to be sure, my doctor also got a letter from that hospital saying that if my insurance billed me as out-of-network they would cover the cost of the difference in out-of-pocket.
The initial incident happened in the city of Seattle, which most people think of as an extremely liberal city where virtually no one is homophobic. I was lucky that I had as my primary physician a guy who was ready to fight for his patients. Who know what would have happened if I hadn’t had him in my corner? And the doctor who sent me home with tranquilizers was simply appalled that anyone would think that he had allowed any sort of prejudice guide his decision to lie to me about his diagnosis and send me home with medicine that would just make sure I was too sleepy to do anything for a few days.
I bet to this day he would swear that he doesn’t have a homophobic bone in his body. Homophobia isn’t limited to people scream slurs while they beat you.The takeaway: for many reasons queers are less likely to get consistent, quality health care. They are disproportionately less likely to experience good health care outcomes. Therefore, more likely to die younger than their straight contemporaries. And that doesn’t even include the hundreds of thousands of queer men in the U.S. who died starting in 1979 due to the AIDS epidemic (which is still ongoing, but the availability of multi-drug anti-viral cocktails beginning in the mid-1990s have met it is no long a death sentence, even though there is still no cure).
Then there is the phenomenon of people so deeply afraid of being outed that even on an anonymous survey they will not identify as anything other than straight. Any reasonably friendly out gay man who has ever logged into a hookup app, a gay chat site, or similar forum will have many stories of getting hit up on by men who are married to women (usually with kids), and desperately want to have sex with other men, but only if you can be discreet and guarantee that no one will ever know. If you can get them to talk about it, they will admit that they have wanted to have sex with other men since they were teens (or even earlier), but have always been afraid to be out, and they are convinced that their lives will end if their wife and family ever found out they were anything but 100 percent straight.
I remember one particularly heart-wrenching conversation with a guy who felt he was super lucky precisely because his first (and only) child was a son, so that his super conservative and religious parents and in-laws were all happy, and he was able to just stop having sex with his wife at all after the arrival of the first baby. And significantly, his wife was perfectly happy that he supposedly hadn’t been interested in sex at all for the next about 30 years (at the time I talked to him). He had been having lots and lots and lots of sex for all those years—it was just furtive, downlow sex with other men. And I have little doubt that if he happened to be surveyed by Gallup, that without hesitation he would describe himself as straight
Now while I have met a few younger men like him, the vast majority of these downlow closet cases I run into online now are middle aged or older.
It’s more accurate to conclude from Gallup’s generational information that younger people currently feel less fear to admit their orientation. We hope that, going forward, they will also experience fewer of the issues that have caused earlier generations of queers to die before their time.
I need to get my other hosting issues sorted out and get a couple of my other sites back up on the web. But a conversation elseweb made me dig out this essay I wrote and first published 22 years ago and resurrect it on this blog. Homophobia is not a recent development in the sci fi community. But also neither is allyship, so:
(Originally published 18 June, 1999)
Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985) was one of America’s finest writers. He was one of the great figures of the Golden Age of science fiction. During his lifetime he produced over 200 stories, several novels, film and tv scripts (including two of the most famous episodes of the original “Star Trek” series), plays, and dozens of non-fiction reviews and essays. His many literary awards include the Hugo, the Nebula, and the International Fantasy Award.
Sturgeon wrote such great fiction because his philosophy was “Always ask the next question.” He even created a symbol or personal shorthand for “Ask the next question,” a capital “Q” with an arrow through it. He was never satisfied with conventional wisdom or pat answers.
And that tendency got him in big trouble in 1953, making him the central target of an intense “anti-homosexual blacklist” within the publishing community. Prior to the 1970s, it was virtually unheard of for gay men, lesbian, or bisexual characters to appear in any kind of fiction, and when they did, they were either vile villains or tragically flawed creatures who committed suicide before the end of the story. While many science fiction authors were questioning racial stereotypes or decrying McCarthy’s rabid anti-communism, they closed ranks with the rest of the status quo on the question of homosexuality.
Not Theodore Sturgeon. At the time a father of four and somewhat notorious womanizer, Sturgeon still couldn’t help but ask the next question. If racism was wrong, why not sexism and heterosexism? He wrote three short stories in quick succession. The first, “The Silken Swift” was a twist on the unicorn legend that questioned society’s definitions of purity and innocence, while making some comments about the role of women in most cultures. It caused a slight stir, but didn’t seem too far out. Then “The Sex Opposite” started showing up in editor’s mailboxes, in which Sturgeon posited a whole subspecies of humans who could change their gender at will, and whom engaged in long term relationships with members of all three sexes. This provoked a mild uproar, and many editors shied far away from it. Sturgeon started receiving unsolicited advice, some of it implied that people were assuming he was homosexual (because only a “pervert” would even think of portraying such relationships as possible, let alone successful and happy) and suggesting that he tone it down, for the sake of his career.
Which seemed to firm up Sturgeon’s resolve. He sat down at his typewriter and created “The World Well Lost” in which homosexual characters were not only portrayed as normal, well-adjusted people in the future, the story came right out and referred to the homophobic past has a horrible time. Fear and loathing of homosexuals was a sign of an immature society, the story said. This was too much for some people. The editor of the magazine Fantastic, Howard Browne, was so outraged by the tale, not only did he reject it, he immediately started phoning all the other editors he knew to organized a boycott of Sturgeon. Browne wasn’t satisfied with bullying other editors into agreeing never to publish anything from Sturgeon again. He and his cronies promised to completely ruin the career of anyone who dared publish “The World Well Lost” itself.
Ray Palmer was a feisty man who was editor of Universe Science Fiction, a small pulp sci-fi zine at the time. Perhaps it was because Mr. Palmer had suffered from disfiguring disability since childhood, and had little sympathy for bullies, but in any case, Palmer put “The World Well Lost” into a fast track to get it published right away. And he publicly dared Browne’s group to make good on their threat.
Browne’s coalition quickly crumbled, and the “Homosexual Blacklist” faded away before it had a chance to damage any other careers.
Sturgeon kept on asking the next question, never afraid to broach topics just because they were controversial. And Palmer enjoyed a long and successful career in publishing. Thanks to them, other writers in the fifties, sixties, and seventies could explore the subject of homosexuality in a more balanced and tolerant fashion. While it was true that, even into the late seventies, most readers, critics, and editors assumed that any author who wrote such a story was probably gay, bi, or lesbian themselves, it was because of two courageous heterosexual men, Sturgeon and Palmer, that those authors could give us those rare, early glimpses into a world where homophobia was neither common nor acceptable.
This pride month, remember to raise a toast to Theodore Sturgeon and Ray Palmer, two people who knew it was better to do the right thing than to be perceived as the right kind of people. Where ever their spirits are now, I’m sure they are still asking questions.