Friday, April 25, 2014

Gay and Bisexual Men on US Postage Stamps

Next month on May 22, the Post Office will officially reveal the Harvey Milk Forever Stamp. The stamp’s official first-day-of-issue ceremony will take place at the White House. The stamp image is based on a circa 1977 black and white photograph of Milk in front of his Castro Street Camera store in San Francisco taken by his friend, photo journalist and gay rights activist Daniel Nicoletta. The 49-cent forever stamp will be the nation’s first honoring an American for his role in the fight for LGBT rights.

“President Obama and his administration have provided the nation with steadfast and trendsetting leadership in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in the U.S. and abroad,” stated Stuart Milk, the gay nephew of Milk who co-founded the Harvey Milk Foundation. “May 22, Harvey Milk Day, is celebrated annually on my uncle’s birthday as an official California State holiday and is recognized in communities around the world as a day for all minority groups to collaborate on the vigilance needed to achieve fully inclusive human rights for everyone, everywhere.”

The U.S. Postal Service has honored numerous gay, lesbian, or bisexual people on stamps over the years. Some of them were very open and out in their sexuality. Many more were private, secretive, closeted about their affections. Many were married and had same sex trysts or long-term lovers on the side. Also, up until the mid 20th-century, homosexuality as total identity predicated on same-sex attraction was only invented as a possibility with the rise of psychoanalysis and the medical and legal establishments’ increasing interest in “perversion.” Prior to then the term and all its modern connotations did not exist yet.

Politicians and public servants:
General Frederick von Steuben, George Washington’s chief of staff during the Revolutionary War. He is credited with being one of the fathers of the Continental Army in teaching them the essentials of military drills, tactics, and disciplines. Von Steuben was forced to leave Baden (a German state) where he was threatened with prosecution for homosexuality. When he joined Washington's army at Valley Forge he was accompanied by two young European aides.

Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father of the United States, chief of staff to General Washington, one of the most influential interpreters and promoters of the Constitution, the founder of the nation's financial system, and the founder of the first American political party. While in Washington's service Hamilton befriended a group of other young officers, with one of whom, John Laurens of South Carolina, he had a particularly intense romantic relationship.

James Buchanan, 15th President and only bachelor in the White House. President Buchanan's great love was William Rufus King, senator from Alabama and Vice President under Franklin Pierce. Andrew Jackson called them "Miss Nancy" and "Aunt Fancy."

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President. Lincoln maintained intimate friendships with several men—especially Joshua Speed, with whom a young Lincoln shared a bed for four years following his move in 1837 to Springfield, Ill., and a lifelong correspondence thereafter.

Richard Nixon, 37th President. Had a closeted, down-low relationship with his best friend and confidant, a Mafia‑connected Florida wheeler-dealer named Charles 'Bebe' Rebozo. [More on Tricky Dick's gay affair.]

Performers and artists:
Alvin Ailey, choreographer and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City and is credited with popularizing modern dance.

Samuel Barber, classical composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music.

Leonard Bernstein, composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist. Composed "Fancy Free," "Candide," "On the Town," "West Side Story," and "Mass."

James Dean, Hollywood actor. Celebrated for his roles in the films "Rebel Without a Cause," "East of Eden," and "Giant."

Stephen Foster, known as the "father of American music", was a songwriter primarily known for his parlor and minstrel music. He wrote over 200 songs; best known are "Oh! Susanna," "Camptown Races," "Old Folks at Home," "My Old Kentucky Home," "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair," "Old Black Joe," and "Beautiful Dreamer.”

Cary Grant, Hollywood actor, lived 11 years with fellow actor Randolph Scott. Friends from that time said that the two handsome actors lived together openly and began traveling in Hollywood’s gay social circles. A few years before, Cary Grant had lived openly with gay Hollywood designer, Orry-Kelly.

Lorenz Hart, lyricist half of the Broadway songwriting team Rodgers and Hart. Some of his more famous lyrics include "Blue Moon," "The Lady Is a Tramp," "Manhattan," "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered," "My Funny Valentine," "This Can't Be Love,"  and "Isn't It Romantic?".

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne they were the pre-eminent Broadway acting couple of American stage, having the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway named in their honor. The lived and worked together in a lavender marriage. Both were gay.

Cole Porter, composer and songwriter. His numerous hit songs include "Night and Day", "I Get a Kick Out of You", "Well, Did You Evah!", "I've Got You Under My Skin", "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" and "You're the Top".

Rudolph Valentino, silent screen actor and a sex symbol of the 1920s. Valentino's sexuality was the subject of speculation. Rumors of his homosexuality were rife among Hollywood gay circles, despite (or because of) his marriages to and divorces from two wives, both lesbian.

Andy Warhol, was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art. He is also notable as a gay man who lived openly as such before the gay liberation movement.

Recognized for their art:
Charles Demuth, painter known for developing a style of painting called Precisionism. He was one of America's first modernist painters and was one of the earliest artists in this country to expose his gay identity through forthright, positive depictions of homosexual desire.

Robert Indiana, best known as the creator of the LOVE series of paintings and sculptures, is an openly gay American artist who has incorporated autobiographical and gay themes within his work. 

Marsden Hartley was among a handful of gay and lesbian artists who came to define the delicate balance between the poetic and the erotic in the early days of the American avant-garde.

J.C. Leyendecker, illustrator best known for his poster, book and advertising illustrations, the trade character known as The Arrow Collar Man, and his numerous covers for The Saturday Evening Post. For forty-nine years, Charles Beach (The Arrow Man) functioned as Leyendecker's model, lover, cook, and business manager.

Maurice Sendak, illustrator and writer of children's books. His best known book “Where the Wild Things Are.” Sendak was in a loving and committed relationship of fifty years that ended only with his partner's death. He came out to the press a year later.

Grant Wood, painter. Wood’s homosexuality was something of an open secret in his hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where an attitude of “don’t ask – don’t tell’’ allowed a small gay and lesbian subculture to exist in peace, so long as it remained practically invisible.

Writers and Poets:
Horatio Alger, Jr., 19th-century author, best known for his many juvenile novels characterized by the "rags-to-riches" narrative. Poems that Alger wrote in the 1850s testify to the importance that same-sex desire played in his life and make constant reference to an absent companion.

James Baldwin, novelist and poet. Best known for novels “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “Giovanni's Room.”

T.S. Eliot, one of the twentieth century's major poets.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century.

Langston Hughes, poet, social activist, novelist, and playwright. Best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance.

Herman Melville, novelist, poet, and writer of short stories. Best known for “Moby-Dick” and “Billy Budd, Sailor.

Henry David Thoreau, author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, and leading transcendentalist.

Thornton Wilder, playwright and novelist. Best known for the novel “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” and for the plays “Our Town," “The Skin of Our Teeth,” and “Matchmaker.”

Walt Whitman, poet, essayist and journalist. Best known for his homoerotic poetry collection “Leaves of Grass.”

Tennessee Williams, playwright of many stage classics: “The Glass Menagerie”, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Suddenly, Last Summer,” and “Sweet Bird of Youth.

Others versatile men:
Dag Hammarskjöld, a Swedish diplomat, economist, author and the second Secretary-General of the United Nations. Hammarrskjold is now widely known to be gay, but during his lifetime he kept his orientation hidden except to his closest friends.

George Washington Carver, noted botanist who introduced crop rotation to southern U.S. agriculture. He was particularly known for developing hundreds of uses for the peanut. He enjoyed  giving “therapeutic” peanut oil massages to and engaging in horseplay with handsome young men.

Other gay themes:
AIDS awareness, released in 1993 in recognition of World AIDS Day. The ribbon was created by artists who formed the Visual AIDS Artists Caucus in NYC. They wished to create a visual symbol to demonstrate compassion for people living with AIDS and their caregivers. Inspired by the yellow ribbons honoring American soldiers serving in the Gulf war, the color red was chosen for its, "connection to blood and the idea of passion -- not only anger, but love, like a valentine." First worn publicly by Jeremy Irons at the 1991 Tony Awards, the ribbon soon became renowned as an international symbol of AIDS awareness.

Wizard of Oz, 1990 stamp of early gay icons Judy Garland, “Wizard of Oz,” and the song “Over the Rainbow.” In gay slang, a "friend of Dorothy"  is a term for a gay man. The phrase dates back to at least World War II, when homosexual acts were illegal in the US.

Jury Duty, Serve with Pride, 2007 stamp designed with a gay subtext or a call to the gay agenda?

Love, 1984 stamp has a colorful heart on for love.

Love, 1985 stamp features a stylized rainbow of colorful strokes.

Love, 1990 stamp features two identical (same-sex?) blue lovebirds over a deep pink heart. It is not uncommon for lovebirds to bond to their same sex.

Lets not forget some of the famous lesbians on US postage stamps. A few of the best known ones are: Jane Adams, Josephine Baker, Elizabeth Bishop, Willa Cather, Isadora Duncan, Lynn Fontanne, Greta Garbo, Billie Holiday, Barbara Jordan, Frida Kahlo, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Georgia O’Keefe, Alice Paul, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bessie SmithRosetta Tharpe, and Dr. Mary Edwards Walker.

The source for many of these stamps comes from the Gay and Lesbian History on Stamps Club Bio data from Wikipedia and GLBTQ Encyclopedia.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Gay Pesach Seder Dinner

Although Passover began last Monday, we are hosting our Seder dinner tonight on Saturday. Most Jews celebrate Pesach or Passover with a Seder dinner on the first and/or second night of the seven (some say eight) day festival. Tonight 20 gay men will be sitting down and retelling the ancient story of freedom and liberation.

I have written and posted in the past about our gay men's Passover Seder. Here is a collection of some of my favorite and informative posts.

The story of liberation. In addition to telling the Exodus story, we also tell and remember the lives and contributions of gay Jews.
Remembering the Stories of Gay Jews in the History of GLBT Liberation:

On our Seder table we have both the traditional Seder plate and a GLBT Seder plate.
The meaning of the Gay Seder Plate:

Some of the readings we incorporate into our service around the table.
Gay Memorial Candle and a Retelling of the Ten Plagues in the GLBT community:

Our menu for tonight. Lovingly prepared by my husband.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cover to Cover: Gay Novels

A couple weeks ago NYC blogger, journalist and author, Matthew Rettenmund (, put together a list of gay novels he liked. He said his list was not intended to be a definitive list, just the one he liked. With his list, he included the first and last sentences of the novel.

The list is quite extensive. Of the 120 novels he showcased, I have read the following 23 of them:
Hold Tight (1988), Father of Frankenstein (1995), Gossip (1997) by Christopher Bram
Dancer from the Dance (1978) by Andrew Holleran
Faggots (1978) by Larry Kramer
The Lost Language of Cranes (1986), While England Sleeps (1993) by David Leavitt
The Men from the Boys (1997) by William Mann
Tales of the City (1978), More Tales of the City (1980), Further Tales of the City (1982), Babycakes (1984), Significant Others (1987), Sure of You (1989), Maybe the Moon (1992), The Night Listener (2000), Michael Tolliver Lives (2007), Mary Ann in Autumn (2010) by Armistead Maupin
Band Fags! (2008), Drama Queers! (2009) by Frank Anthony Polito
Interview with the Vampire (1976) by Anne Rice
Myra Breckinridge (1968) by Gore Vidal
The Front Runner (1974) Patricia Nell Warren

However, I have a number of them on my bookshelf or list to read. They include:
Giovanni's Room (1956) by James Baldwin
Surprising Myself (1987) by Christopher Bram
Flesh and Blood (1995), The Hours (1998) by Michael Cunningham
Maurice (1913/1971) by E.M. Forster
Nights in Aruba (1983), Grief (2006) by Andrew Holleran
A Single Man (1964) by Christopher Isherwood
Purgatory (2012) by Jeff Mann
The Days of Anna Madrigal (2014) by Armistead Maupin
How Long Has This Been Going On? (1995) by Ethan Mordden
At Swim, Two Boys (2003) by Jamie O'Neill
The Charioteer (1953), The Persian Boy (1972) by Mary Renault
Boy Culture (1995), Blind Items: A (Love) Story (1998) by Matthew Rettenmund
The World of Normal Boys (2000) by K.M. Soehnlein
The Story of the Night (1996) by Colm Tóibín
The City and the Pillar (1948), Myron (1974) by Gore Vidal
Harlan's Race (1994), Billy's Boy (1997) by Patricia Nell Warren
Nocturnes for the King of Naples (1978), A Boy's Own Story (1982), The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988), The Farewell Symphony (1997), The Married Man (2000) by Edmund White

Alan Hollinghurst is one author I hadn’t heard of before but am now intrigued to learn more about.  Two of his novels are: The Folding Star (1994), The Line of Beauty (2004).

One author Matthew doesn’t include is Michael Thomas Ford. We have enjoyed a number of his novels. His work has been nominated for eleven Lambda Literary Awards. He has authored over 50 adult and young adult books. The ones we have read are: Last Summer (2003), Looking For It (2005), Full Circle (2005), Changing Tides (2008), The Road Home (2011).

Last Summer (2003)
FIRST “I could just go back.”
LAST “Josh looked at him for a moment, then leaned in and kissed him. ‘Yes,’ he said when the parted. ‘I did.’”

Looking For It (2005)
FIRST “Another fireman. That makes five.”
LAST “Mike lay his head on Thomas’s shoulder, nuzzling his neck. ‘And some of us are lucky enough to find it,’ he said.”

Full Circle (2005)
FIRST “Ned, it’s Jack.”
LAST “And although some will doubtless be disappointed when no clear answer arises to give them comfort, those who look carefully will find that I the search – in the questioning and wondering and raging – there is beauty beyond reckoning.”

Changing Tides (2007)
FIRST “As Ben Ransome descended through the water, he had the feeling, as he always did, that he was entering a cathedral.”
LAST “Knowing this, he opened his eyes and looked into the strong, bright face of his future.”

The Road Home (2010)
FIRST “Burke couldn’t remember the rest. It was something about peace and singing.”
LAST “’I am home,’ he said.”

Bonus: The cover artist on most of his books published by Kensington Books was the renowned Canadian gay artist Steve Walker.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review: “Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful? A Memoir”

Kenneth Walsh’s first book, “Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful? A Memoir," is his coming out story and coming of age in the 1980’s and 90’s. It is a fascinating bumpy ride from Detroit to Phoenix to Los Angeles to Washington, DC to finally his sought after magical dream residence and career in New York City.  Kenneth is a NYC blogger that I have been following shortly after he began his blog, Kenneth in the (212) in 2005.

These kind of true stories I find interesting. Not only did I come out much later in life, it took me a long time to figure out my sexual nature. I also came out in the early 2000’s when it was much more accepted. Kenny knew his life was destined to be different from watching “Family Affair” reruns as a young kid. There was a glamorous city life available for someone willing to make a journey.
“As I grew up, I continued to plot my move to the Big Apple. Family Affair reruns gave way to Woody Allen movies (all those glamorous neurotics in those huge apartments!). The Goodbye Girl (even struggling creative types could do it!), and Desperately Seeking Susan (that’s where New Wavers like me live!).”
And what a journey he tells: several young dysfunctional relationships, a porn star roommate, mistaken celebrity doppelgängers, a morbid curiosity for unsolved crime stories, and penchant for New Wave music and style.

In the 80’s and 90’s it was still a hard time for a young guy to come out to himself, family and friends. There still were not a lot of positive portrays in the media. The AIDS crisis fueled fear, prejudice and suspicion both in the gay community and in society in general.

Kenneth describes one of the traumatic events I can relate to when he was 9 years old. Kate Jackson was on The Tonight Show to promote her new film “Making Love.” It’s “a love story about a married man who has an affair…with another man.” The audience loudly boos when Kate says it deals with homosexuality.
“What had started as somewhat typical “embarrassing” teenage moments—when parents’ friends would ask if you “like girls yet” or “have a girlfriend”—turned into crippling anxiety after seeing that hostile reaction to homosexuality on Johnny Carson. Instead of brushing off such inquiries, which plague plenty of socially awkward straight kids as well, I began to avoid all situations that could lead down this path. My self-doubt and increasing sense of worthlessness—the whole nation would turn hostile and boo me if they knew who I really was—became who I was.”
Kenneth’s memoir is a reflection of gay culture of the time, 1980s through 2000s. It is all there: critical intelligence and aesthetic insight, cattiness, melodrama, poignant self-awareness, adoration of female icons, and obsession with mothers. I look forward to future works by Kenneth Walsh.

Bonus: YouTube video of Kate Jackson on The Tonight Show (1982). At the 8 minute mark is where she talks about the movie.

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