By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
This is clear in a passage where Epstein spoke of an analyst he knew who had a patient so unhinged by his as yet un-acted-upon same-sex desires that he had tried to take his own life. Logically, and humanely, the analyst told her client to face his fears by giving it a go -- with results that greatly disturbed Epstein. "True, he did not commit suicide, and the decision to surrender himself to his homosexuality may have spared him that. But neither did he find any measure of happiness or any release from his pain in homosexuality." Better dead than gay, I guess.
"I have four sons," Epstein climactically wailed, "and while I do not walk the streets thinking constantly about their sexual development, worrying right on through the night about their turning out homosexual, I have very little idea, apart from supplying them with ample security and affection, about how to prevent it. Uptight? You're damn right. Given any choice in the matter, I should prefer sons who are heterosexual. My ignorance makes me frightened."
But Epstein's admitted ignorance did not frighten me, or my compatriots in the Gay Activist Alliance. Here's how Harper'seditor in chief, Willie Morris, in his memoir, recalled what happened next:
"One day several dozen homosexuals arrived en masse to occupy the offices. They came to demand redress for a paragraph in an article by Joseph Epstein which they considered unsympathetic to homosexuality. Herman Gollub was working on a manuscript at the desk in the office when a young man suddenly burst inside, followed by a television cameraman and a lighting technician. 'Hi, I'm Hal, I'm a homosexual,' the young man said. Taken by surprise the kindly Gollub replied, 'Gee, I'm sorry,' to which the ä demonstrator shouted, 'I don't want your pity!,' and stormed away in a rage."
While it scans rather nicely on the page, there was no "Hal the Homosexual" present on October 27, 1970. Morris and "the kindly Gollub" elected to evoke the classic image of the hysterical queen storming away in a huff -- even though said queen was making an entrance rather than an exit. But then Morris wasn't there to see what actually went on. I was, along with Vito Russo, Morty Manford, Jim Owles, Arnie Kantrowitz and Arthur Evans -- the one who actually "stormed" at Gollub. Morris may not have grasped the who, but he certainly understood the why-- that our protest wasn't over a single paragraph, and that it came not out of the blue but after numerous attempts to have a rebuttal to Epstein published in Harper's, attempts vetoed by Morris and his executive editor, Midge Decter.
Morris also knew we had won a very important ally in the novelist and noted biographer Merle Miller. While he didn't participate in the demonstration, Miller attended our meetings and gave us our most important piece of advice: "Don't worry, Midge won't call the cops right away." After all this happened, he was having lunch with writers Victor Navasky and Gerald Walker (whose novel Cruisingwould become a cinematic flash point a decade later) when Epstein's essay came up. Navasky and Walker apparently approved of it, and Miller hit the roof: "Look, goddamn it," he told them, "I'm homosexual, and most of my best friends are Jewish homosexuals, and some of my best friends are black homosexuals, and I am sick and tired of reading and hearing such goddamn demeaning, degrading bullshit about me and my friends." This led to Miller writing an essay for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, "What It Means To Be a Homosexual," which detailed Miller's lifelong struggle to deal with his sexuality -- including a failed marriage -- and spoke to the Times readership as no one had done before about what it meant to come to terms with same-sex orientation in an exceedingly hostile culture.
POLITICS IS THE ACT OF CHOOSING what one wishes to remember. "I could not, after 15 years, recall all that I had written in that essay," Epstein asserted in a 1985 article titled "True Virtue," also in The New York Times Sunday Magazine. "I could not have said that I would rather have my sons be murderers or dope addicts than homosexuals." Except, of course, no one claimed that Epstein said anything of the sort. But it serves his purpose, just as the alleged "paragraph" and "Hal the Homosexual" served Morris'. Morris is gone now, and so are Miller, Russo, Manford and Owles. But Evans, Kantrowitz and I are still here. And so are Decter (whose memoir, An Old Wife's Tale: My Seven Decades in Love and War, is just out in paperback) and Epstein, who in Snobbery gets in one telling dig that shows how little he has changed after all. "Owing to their not (for the most part) having children, homosexuals lack the sense of futurity, the sense of passing things on to the next generation that society requires to continue."
Oh, really? Perhaps one of the four sons he was so worried about 32 years ago might enlighten him, as the world they live in is filled with "openly" gay and lesbian people, many of whom live lives free of the self-loathing he was convinced we are heir to. In fact, the law of averages might well have affected the evolution of his sons' sexual "preference" in ways that even one as watchful as Epstein could not possibly prevent. After all, to quote the immortal Fats Waller, "One never knows -- do one?"
SNOBBERY: THE AMERICAN VERSION| By JOSEPH EPSTEIN I Houghton Mifflin | 274 pages | $25 hardcover
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city