The Queers are Coming!
The Queers are Coming!
More than 40 years ago several American Theatre critics were afflicted with a terrible fear that the American way of life was under insidious attack by an evil force that sought to undermine and destroy the family and marriage.
That evil force was the "Homosexual" playwright who because of his distorted sense of self wrote about the family and women in a false and insidious fashion and therefore undermined both.
Part of this insidious attack was that evil "Homosexual" playwrights would write about "Straight" people and relationships in a "Homosexual" way and thus distort and dirty it with their malice.
Thus the Theatre critic Howard Taubman would write in 1961:
It is time to speak openly and candidly of the increasing influence and incidence of homosexuality on the New York stage - and, indeed, in the other arts as well.
The subject is too important to be left forever to the sly whispers and malicious gossips...
The infiltration of homosexual attitudes occurs in the theater at many levels...
The insidious results of the unspoken taboo is that sincere, searching writers feel they must state a homosexual theme in heterosexual situations. They convince themselves that what they wish to say will get through anyhow. But the dissembling is unhealthy. The audience senses rot at the drama's core.
The taboos are not what they used to be. Homosexuality is not a forbidden topic.1
The result was that three of the great American playwrights, Tennessee Williams, William Inge and Edward Albee, were because it was well known, even if not overtly printed, that they were Gay were the targets of a campaign.
Thus it was alleged that the situations in their plays were somehow "Homosexual", that they deliberately distorted "Heterosexual" relationships, the family and women. That in fact the female characters in the plays, were frequently disguised men and the plays were filed with disguised "Homosexual" relationships/ situations.
And of course this was all propaganda designed to further a "Homosexual Agenda".
Thus has one critic pointed out:
Fear that the unidentified gay playwright would lure the public into "renouncing heterosexuality" and participating in "disgusting, sinful acts" became widespread, coinciding with the straight man on the street's dread of being "seduced"...
Playwrights who were suspected of being gay were watched, major authors whose work was especially misrepresented critically included Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, and William Inge.2
Those three I mentioned earlier and by far probably the most important of the Gay playwrights whose "distorted" work was subverting godly Heterosexuality, Women and the Family. (Snark)
Thus Edward Albee was a target and we get such crap has Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? described as:
...perhaps the most successful homosexual play ever produced on broadway, if its sexual core had been more evident to more people it probably never would have run - even though it is perfect theatre (although basically dishonest).3
And we get the following from a jaundiced and off base review of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? the following bit of baiting:
And so Albee’s pièce noire is suddenly turned into a pièce rose. Much to the comfort of its Broadway audience, one must suppose.4
This is after a discussion of the absurdity of a plot device in the play and how Albee uses it to wrap things up. The implication is that here the playwright reveals himself and that the "Broadway Audience" sees it for being a "Homosexual" play. The reference to a "piece rose" or pink piece is an oh so not coy way of referring to that.
Then we get Philip Roth in a review of Albee's play Tiny Alice says the following bot-mots:
Tiny Alice is a homosexual day-dream in which the celibate male is tempted and seduced by the overpowering female, only to be betrayed by the male lover and murdered by the cruel law, or in this instance, cruel lawyer.
His subject is emasculation—as was Strindberg’s in The Father, a play I mention because its themes, treated openly and directly, and necessarily connected in the action, are the very ones that Albee has so vulgarized and sentimentalized in Tiny Alice: male weakness, female strength, and the limits of human knowledge. How long before a play is produced on Broadway in which the homosexual hero is presented as a homosexual, and not disguised as an angst-ridden priest, or an angry Negro, or an aging actress; or worst of all, Everyman?5
It doesn't take much to take apart the no nothing idiocy of this view of Albee's play. The confidence with which the writer dissects the "real" meaning of the play and ignores both the playwright and text is amusing. Of course Edward Albee denied then and denies now that his plays had any such covert meanings and that they were indeed about what they appeared to be about and had no hidden covert agenda.6
The idea that the women in his plays were disguised men or that for example the two couples in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? were in fact two Gay couples was rejected by him has patent nonsense. Also he rejected as ludicrous the notion that he sought to put in "Homosexual" themes in his plays by disguising them. Of course anyone who sees the plays performed will have a hard time seeing the couples as "really" all male. Albee's female characters were from the beginning thought of as female and intended to be female.
The fact that Albee's plays tend to be rather psychologically lacerating in its portrayal of relationships does not mean that there was any covert "Homosexual" propaganda in them. Perhaps the critics found honesty a bit too much.
And of course what is of interest in Roth's statements is that he cannot conceive of the "Homosexual" has a priest, an angry negro, aging actress or an everyman. Instead the "Homosexual" is the other whose essence is his homosexuality and nothing else it seems matters.
And the not so coy title of Roth’s review The Play that Dare Not Speak Its Name, indicates quite strongly his deeply held belief in the secret hidden "Homosexual agenda" of Albee's work.
From the critic Elizabeth Hardwick we got the following bot mots about a play by William Inge:
The action of Where’s Daddy? turned upon a dummy baby. Motherhood, Fatherhood (“Hold it, man! It won’t hurt you!”) and the rearing of the young came under the scrutiny of an old queen, two beatniks, two sturdy, no-nonsense stage Negroes, and a suburban grandmother. The fussy, aging pederast turned out to be the best father, or mother, of us all. And so the curtain came down not on a sick, pansy show, but on a wholesome, little didactic confection,…7
Later Ms. Hardwick says concerning the plays of William Inge, Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee:
If this decadent, homosexual theater has indeed had its run, why should the end have come now? Perhaps it is simple exhaustion, and yet it may be more than that. Art has not yet taken in directly the new America of President Johnson, McNamara, the Pentagon, the lonely, looming power of America itself. We are not the same and the protest or affirmation that art will make about what we newly are cannot be the same. The new America is much more subtle than McCarthy or the administration of Eisenhower. It seems to be some strange permanent alteration in our relation to things that will not die with new administrations. Perhaps some unimaginable Cherry Orchard will be cut down and tell us what we have lost or gained…or perhaps it will not come like that at all but from a nihilistic comedy. No matter, the threat of the engulfing mother, the rape of the son, the tyranny of the little woman, the tears of exotic misfits—these do not seem to be what we are truly like, either in our dreams or our waking.8
Then Ms. Hardwick finds in some other plays reassurance and relief that the decadent “Homosexual” plays and playwrights have well and truly been left behind:
Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance and The Caucasian Chalk Circle are as masculine and as deep in social engagement as one could wish.9
The relief with which Ms. Hardwick embraces a “masculine” theatre as against the “decadent” theatre of the “Homosexual” playwrights is palatable. Of course exactly what is “masculine” theatre is not defined merely assumed. And of course the “decadent” theatre of the “Homosexual” playwright is subversive and distorting of the true America. Thus we can safely reject as something foreign and remote the “nihilistic” comedy, the “exotic misfits” because they are not “what we are truly like”. For they are the products of the “decadent” “Homosexual” theatre.
Ms. Hardwick also lists her biases like a string of beads showing she has read her clichéd Freudian texts. Restricting so-called “Homosexual” theater to ideas of the engulfing mother, a son’s fear of “rape” and female tyranny. Thus showing her embrace of notions of close-binding mother, castrating mother “causing” homosexuality and of course repeating the hoary myth of “Homosexuals” fearing and hating women and thus “distorting” them.
Another writer William Goldman wrote about Albee saying that a play Albee had adapted said that “all wives are whores” and “all husbands are panderers,” also that “the only wisdom lies with bachelors and young boys.”10
Thus according to Mr. Goldman the play Albee adapted “was as clear a statement of the homosexual mystique as one could hope to find”. Goldman claimed that when Albee “writes boy-girl relationships when he really means boy-boy relationships; he understands boy-boy relationships but is forced to write them as boy-girl.” And since Albee is forced to do this “he treats heterosexuals viciously.”11
Thus the “Homosexual” Playwright engaged in an evil scheme to undermine Heterosexuality and therefore presented distorted views of Marriage, the Family and Women. And of course Mr. Goldman “knows” that the “Homosexual” playwright is “really” talking about two men and not a man and a women. So of course his female characters are “really” men. And so of course the female characters are hateful caricatures of women. This subversive campaign is of course vicious and hate filled. The amount of fantasy in this is quite amazing.
Stanley Kauffmann, another critic, wrote the following words about the great “Homosexual” assault against, Love, Heterosexuality, the Family and Women. Thus Mr. Kaufmann wrote that Albee and others were “giving a badly distorted picture of American women, marriage and society”. This was so because the supposed two sex couples were in fact one sex couples or as Kauffmann said “two-sex version of the one-sex experience.”12
Thus once again the insidious “Homosexual” influence undermining the Family, Women and of course Heterosexuality. Kauffmann argued that:
I do not argue for increased homosexual influence in our theater. It is precisely because I, like many others, am weary of disguised homosexual influences that I raise the matter.13
Kauffmann claimed that “Homosexual” playwrights were filled with “vindictiveness”, and that caused them to “distort marriage and femininity”. They did this because they “hate those who make them hate themselves”.14 Thus “Homosexual” playwrights were engaging in warfare against “Normal” Americans and seeking to undermine it, by covert propaganda.
Kauffmann dressed up his baiting in “friendly” garb arguing that:
The principal complaint against homosexual dramatists is well known. Because three of the most successful American playwrights of the past twenty years are (reputed) homosexuals and because their plays often treat of women and marriage, therefore, it is said, postwar American drama presents a badly distorted picture of American women, marriage and society in general. Certainly there is substance in the charge; but is it rightly directed?14
Kauffmann argued that because “Homosexuals” were oppressed they were compelled to write about certain topics and resented it. So that these covert attacks were the result fueled by resentments. The problem was that Kauffmann supplied no evidence for this except sheer speculation and basically accepted the argument that “Homosexual” playwrights were conspiring to undermine American values and spreading lies and distortions. What Kauffmann wanted was for “Homosexual” playwrights to be free to write about their “real” concerns, i.e., “Homosexuality” and thus they would not write about Women, Marriage, the Family and Heterosexuality in a “Homosexual” way and thus inevitably distort and undermine them through “vindictiveness”.
As a plea for tolerance this falls rather flat because it basically accepts the idiot notion of a “Homosexual” conspiracy against “Normal” people and the paranoid notion of “disguised” “Homosexuality”.
Aside from the arrogance in assuming what “Homosexual” playwrights “should” write about. Kauffmann seemed to think it should only be about “Homosexual” issues; Kauffmann seemed to forget that “Homosexuals” were and are Male, Female, Young, Old, Sons, Daughters, in all ethnic groups and classes and so forth. That being the case why should “Homosexual” playwrights not write about, the Family, Marriage, Heterosexuality etc.?
By virtue of being Human the “Homosexual” playwright is entitled to write about the general and particulars of Human existence. What Kauffmann wanted was a “Homosexual” theatre that was openly so, so that “Homosexuals” would not in hidden ways “distort” "Normal" people. This ghettoized theatre could then be safely insulated from “Normal” theatre and ignored.
The notion that “Homosexuals” should only write “Homosexual” theatre also declared that being “Homosexual” was by the far the most important characteristic of the ‘Homosexual” playwright. That this “essential” trait defined the ‘Homosexual” and bounded him / her to only be able to write about certain things and forbade him / her to write about other things like Marriage, the Family, Women and Heterosexuality. Thus to Kauffmann the “Homosexual” was the “Other” who he defined purely in terms of his / her sexual orientation, a trait that to him defined the “Homosexual” all way down the line almost entirely by that trait. I merely note he did not define “Heterosexuals” the same way.
Kauffmann never took back this piece of idiocy. That his argument was at best a ham-fisted plea for tolerance and at worst a piece of barely disguised bigotry, doesn’t excuse the fact that he did indeed define the “Homosexual” purely in terms of sexual orientation and has such promoted an idiotic idea. To Kauffmann the “Homosexual” remained the “other”, that the “Homosexual” could be one of us was and remained apparently a foreign thought to him.15
Kauffman’s screed generated some replies. Some wrote that given Kaufmann’s attitudes: “Are Jews only to write about Jews?”16 Kauffmann didn’t really reply to this but insisted that there was still “distortion” and that if “Homosexuals” were free to write about their lives there would not be “distortion”, which was inevitable when ‘Homosexuals” were “forced” to write about Women, Marriage, the Family and Heterosexuality. That “Homosexuals” could write about that simply because they were human did not occur to him neither did the notion that perhaps they weren’t forced at all but wanted to. Kauffmann wanted “Homosexuals” to write ghettoized material that would not “distort” the Family etc. A recent letter from him does not indicate that he has learned much of anything in the meantime.17
In 1968 a critic by the name of Rosalyn Regelson wrote:
Some drama critics have been accusing certain major playwrights of an arrogant homosexual imperialism towards the normal world. Plays like A Streetcar Named Desire and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Which have moved large audiences over the world, have been treated as esoteric missiles in guerrilla attacks by the “homosexual underground.”18
Thus early on this sort of crap did raise the hackles of some critics. But the campaign against the “Queer” menace continued for a while longer before it finally came to end. Basically falling apart on its own idiocy.
The conceit that the female characters, in the plays of Williams, Inge and Albee were in fact disguised men is one that on the face of it is stupid and remains stupid on examination.
Take the Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire, and it’s chief female character Blanche Du Bois. Does anyone seriously believe that this character is meant to be a man!? Just watch the play performed and that notion blows out of your head. Blanche is an entirely believable fully female character not a man in drag.
It has been said that that the great majority of Tennessee Williams important character’s in his plays were his mother, his mentally ill sister Rose and himself. That he drew from those three in endless variation. And it appears to be the case that the male characters including the horrible Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire came from himself. His important female characters were invariably variations of his mother and his sister Rose.19
As for Albee it can be said:
The idea, moreover, that Albee’s female characters are really disguised men has been rendered ridiculous time and again by the evidence of performance.
Any writer whose work could inspire great acting from Elizabeth Taylor, as Albee’s does in the film version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, has to be interested in women as more than ciphers for “boy-boy relationships.”20
About William Inge the same can be said so it will not be repeated here.
About Albee’s portrayal of married life; well how it was portrayed in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Can be described as follows:
The merciless precision with which Albee has dissected their relationship permits them a hard-won possibility of mutual understanding and makes the play, paradoxically, one of the few convincing portrayals of married love in twentieth-century theater.21
The further idea that Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee and William Inge who wrote some of the most convincing and yes sympathetic female characters in their plays, hated or feared women is basically a slander has any reading of play reveals unless one is reading in bad faith would show. Seeing it performed would only clinch the argument. In William’s plays also his female characters are sympathetic, if anything it is his male characters who are decidedly unsympathetic in comparison. Edward Albee has also created many strong female characters that are not “distortions” of “Femininity”. Inge did the same. Their “hatred” of women is entirely in the imaginations of the witch hunters looking for the “Homosexual” conspiracy.
The great “Homosexual” playwright conspiracy turns into another witch hunt for the “other” who is insidiously undermining “normality”. That three gifted playwrights could be so victimized by this sort of intellectual hatchet job is sad and pathetic.
Meanwhile we continue to enjoy their plays.
1. Taubman, Howard, quoted in Curtain, Kair, "We Can Always Call Them Bulgarians", Alyson Pub., Boston, 1987, pp. 322-323. ( Comment made in 1961)
2. Pierce, Allan, quoted in Curtain, p. 323.
3. Gottfried, Martin, in Curtain, pp. 323-324. (Comment made in 1964)
4. Chiaromonte, Nicola, Albee Damned, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Review, in The New York Review of Books, February 1, 1963. (Electronic Edition).
5. Roth, Philip, The Play that Dare Not Speak Its Name, The Alice, Review, in The New York Review of Books, February 25, 1965. (Electronic Edition).
6. See O'Toole, Fintan, These Illusions Are Real, The Collected Plays of Edward Albee, v. 1, Review, The New York Review of Books, September 23, 2004. (Electronic Edition)
7. Hardwick, Elizabeth, The Theater of Decadence, The New York Review of Books, April 29, 1966. (Electronic Edition)
10. Goldman, William, quoted in O’Toole. (Comment made 1969.)
12. IBID. (Comment made 1966)
13. Curtain, p. 324.
14, Kauffmann, Stanley, Letter, Quoting himself, The New York Review of Books, October 24, 2004.
15. Curtain, pp. 329-330.
16. Letter quoted in Curtain p. 324.
17. Footnote 14.
18. Regelson, Rosalyn, quoted in Curtain, p. 324.
19. Vidal, Gore, Tennessee Williams: Someone to Laugh at the Squares With, in United States: Essays 1952-1992, Broadway Books, New York, 1993, pp. 437-449.
20. Footnote 6.