Wednesday, September 28, 2011

September 28

Novelist and essayist
James Baldwin (1924-1987):

"I think Americans are terrified of feeling anything, and homophobia is an extreme example of the American terror that's concerned with growing up. I never met a people more infantile in my life. It's a way of controlling people. Nobody really cares who goes to bed with whom...I mean the nation doesn't really care. They care that you should be frightened of the consequences of what you do. As long as you feel guilty about it, the state can rule you. It's a way of exerting control over the country, by terrifying people."

In 1979, when African-American novelist/essayist James Baldwin addressed a forum sponsored by the New York chapter of Black and White Men Together (BWMT-NY), he opened up for the first time about his own homosexual orientation. Speaking with candor, Baldwin claimed that his life-long sexual orientation had never been a secret, but he had not felt it was necessary, "or anybody's business," to affirm it. "Before I was seven years old," he said, "there were already multiple labels on my back, beginning with 'nigger.' By the time I was 14, I went through a kind of nervous breakdown, when I was a Pentecostal youth preacher in Harlem, and by the time I was 17, 1 had survived all those bigoted labels, including 'faggot.' It wasn't, and it isn't, easy." Baldwin mentioned that, while he was gay, he did not necessarily identify with the institutionalized and "ghettoized" homosexual community. Gays, like blacks, he stated, were being used as scapegoats for white society's own fears. He claimed that, by and large, white gays practiced the same racism against black gays. He mentioned that Gore Vidal, the celebrated gay writer, had referred to him as a "jungle bunny."

In answer to a question from the audience, Baldwin seemed to indicate that his own political consciousness as an open gay advocate had evolved over a period of time. It began with the writing of his book, Giovanni's Room (1956). "That was something I had to do; I had to work through it," he said, in reference to writing the book. It was no secret that it was partly autobiographical.

More recently, he admitted, his consciousness had brought him to the point where in his latest novel, Just Above My Head (1979), he was able to write freely about the homosexual relationship of two blacks. His previous works dealt with sex between whites, or between blacks and whites but not between blacks.

During his teenage years in Harlem and Greenwich Village, Baldwin began to recognize his own homosexuality. In 1948, at the tender age of 24, disillusioned by American prejudice against blacks and homosexuals, Baldwin left the United States and departed for Paris, France, with $40 in his pocket. His flight was not just a desire to distance himself from American prejudice. He fled in order to see himself and his writing beyond an African American context and to be read as not "merely a Negro or even a Negro writer". Baldwin noted shortly after he first arrived in France, "I didn't go to Paris. I left New York."

He left the United States also desiring to come to terms with his sexual ambivalence and flee the hopelessness that many young African American men like himself succumbed to in New York. In Paris, Baldwin was soon involved in the cultural radicalism of the Left Bank. His work started to be published in literary anthologies, notably Zero, which had already published essays by Richard Wright, whom Baldwin called "the greatest black writer in the world". Wright and Baldwin became fast friends, and Wright helped Baldwin get published and ultimately secure numerous literary awards.

Baldwin would live as an expatriate in France for most of his later life. Baldwin came to be seen not only as an influential African American writer but also as an influential exile writer. He became a close friend of the singer, pianist, and civil rights activist Nina Simone. Along with Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry, Baldwin helped awaken Simone to the civil rights movement then fomenting. Among Baldwin’a circle of friends were Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan, Rip Torn, Alex Haley, Miles Davis, Martin Luther King, Jr., Margaret Mead, Josephine Baker, Allen Ginsberg and Maya Angelou.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

September 25

We've been seeing a lot of these black rectangles with a circle and white bar in the center. Don't know why photos are disappearing from this blog and many, many others. If anyone understands what's going on and how to fix it, please contact me at Thanks.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

September 24

A much-expanded blog entry about bisexual Hollywood director Vincente Minnelli (father of Liza) has been placed on my other blog, Gay Influence. Click on this link:

The Gay Ex-marine Who Saved a President's Life

Thirty six years ago this week Sara Jane Moore tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Oliver "Billy" Sipple, a gay former Marine and Vietnam veteran, was standing next to her as she raised a gun and fired it at the president. Sipple grabbed Moore's arm as she made the shot, saving Ford’s life. Her shot missed the president’s head by just six inches.

Afterward, he refused to call himself a hero and said that anyone would have done the same. He lived a deeply closeted life, well beneath the radar in San Francisco's gay community. He was involved with a few gay activist causes, but was careful that his sexuality was not revealed.

That all changed when San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen and Harvey Milk disclosed Sipple’s homosexuality in 1975 in an unwitting attempt to show that gay people can do heroic things.

Sipple was a decorated U.S. Marine who was wounded by shrapnel during combat in Vietnam.That he risked his life to save his commander in chief, even though he was not on duty, has added to his legacy. Thursday, September 22, 2011, was celebrated as Billy Sipple Day in San Francisco. For decades Sipple has been honored as a hero – the gay Vietnam vet who saved a president’s life.

At the time, however, the disclosure of Sipple's homosexuality backfired in a big way. Sipple had not yet come out to his family, and his mother disowned him. Sipple filed a $15 million dollar invasion-of-privacy lawsuit (later dismissed) against the newspapers that outed him. His parents were tracked down and ridiculed about their gay son. His brother stated, "There were a lot of times Billy wished he had never saved the president's life, for all the anguish it caused him. He only spoke that way when he was drinking. He said life would have been so much simpler if he hadn't have done it."

Billy’s father and two brothers all worked for GM in Detroit, where they were met with taunts and jeers at the factory. Sipple’s mother was harassed by neighbors, and soon the family became estranged.

Because of the stress brought on by his outing, Sipple began drinking to excess. When he received a delayed note from President Ford thanking Sipple for his “selfless actions,” Billy saw it as an unpleasant reminder of bitterness at being outed and as a too stand-offish form of thanks. His brother said that Billy was upset that there was no invitation to the White House, not even a commendation, just a short note of thanks. The White House had waited for days before publicly thanking Sipple, while staff debated an appropriate response after learning that the heroic Sipple was gay

Sipple was found dead on top of his bed in 1989 with a bottle of bourbon at his side. He had died of pneumonia, but had been dead for 2 weeks when his body was discovered. When his family later collected his effects from his San Francisco residence, they discovered a framed letter from President Ford hanging on the wall. A few days later President Ford sent a note of condolence to the family.