“Gay Artists in Modern American Culture: An Imagined Conspiracy”–the influence of gay men

Sherry, Michael S. “Gay Artists in Modern American Culture: An Imagined Conspiracy”, University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

The Influence of Gay Men

Amos Lassen

We are all aware of the amount of influence gay men have in the arts especially in the middle of the twentieth century. It was a time filled with great names—Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Aaron Copeland, Samuel Barber, Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson, to name a few. They were all not as we say, “out” and Americans were filled with anxiety over anti-homosexual attitudes. America depended on gay men while they were afraid of them at the same time.

Gay men have always been the subject of interest in our country—even long before gay liberation became a movement. Those who were artists and entertainers lived in a constant spotlight and there was always a great deal of attention focused on them. Much of the publicity about them was not only negative but hostile. What makes this so interesting is that America depended upon gay men for a great deal of the development of the culture of this country while there was a great deal of disdain, even revulsion towards them as well as a conspiracy theory. There was in some minds the idea of a “homintern” or a “homosexual international” that was taking control while debasing the cultural mores of the country and the time was ripe for such a theory as we all know of the anticommunist groups, the anti-Semitic groups and the blatant racism that America was facing.

These gay conspiracy theories took hold because no one bothered to resist them. The artistry of the gay men had helped in the shaping of American life and culture and brought about the rise of modernism to this country. America was at the time involved in the Cold War that she was determined to  win and the success of gay men in the arts gave rise to anti-gay feelings that reached the highest levels of government. It was not until late in the 20th century that suspicion was waylaid and gay artists found their rightful place in the culture of this country.

This is an absolutely fascinating study of the idea that gay men exerted such a tremendous influence particularly in the areas of music and theatre. Sherry looks at and analyzes the amount of anti-gay feelings and the scope, sources and meanings of what was going on and does so with facts and in a way that what he writes is completely believable and real. It is hard for those who did not live through this period to realize that anything like this could have gone on. The very idea that a homosexual takeover was possible is utterly ridiculous but the idea that it was believed

That it would happen is not when considering the temper of the times. The very idea that there was a “homosexual menace” is absurd but for those of us who lived through it, we cannot forget what it was like.

Sherry gives us a completely readable book about this trying period of American history and we all owe it to ourselves to read it.

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