“I Read Myself Out Of The Closet”

And other quotes from a variety of gay and lesbian writers:

Philip Kennicott looks back with ambivalence at the classic gay literature – think Oscar Wilde, Jean Genet, Andre Gide, and Thomas Mann, among others – that shaped the way he came to terms with his own sexuality. While certain novels allowed him to understand he wasn’t alone, the “pleasure of finding new access to these worlds was almost always punctured by the bleakness of the books themselves”:

It is painful to read the bulk of this early canon, and it will only become more and more painful, as gay subcultures dissolve, and the bourgeois respectability that so many of these authors abandoned yet craved becomes the norm. In Genet, marriage between two men was the ultimate profanation, one of the strongest inversions of value the author could muster to scandalize his audience and delight his rebellious readers. The image of same-sex marriage was purely explosive, a strategy for blasting apart the hypocrisy and pretentions of traditional morality. Today, it is becoming commonplace.

I wonder if these books will survive like the literature of abolition, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin—marginal, dated, remembered as important for its earnest, sentimental ambition, but also a catalog of stereotypes. Or if they will be mostly forgotten, like the nineteenth-century literature of aesthetic perversity and decadence that many of these authors so deeply admired? Will Gide and Genet be as obscure to readers as Huysmans and the Comte de Lautréamont (Isidore-Lucien Ducasse)?

I hope not, and not least because they mattered to me, and helped forge a common language of reference among many gay men of my generation. I hope they survive for the many poignant epitaphs they contain, grave markers for the men who were used, abused, and banished from their pages. Let me write them down in my notebook, so I don’t forget their names: Hans, who loved Hermann; Basini, who loved Törless; the Page of Herodias, who loved the Young Syrian; Giovanni, who loved David; and the all rest, unnamed, often with no voice, but not forgotten.