…the queer world-making powers of gossip.

Further excerpts from Between You and Me: Queer Disclosures in the New York Art World, 1948– 1963 by Gavin Butt, Duke University Press, 2005:

“Many articles appeared within the homophile press which analyzed the relationships between genius and homesexuality, and as such, they should be regarded as early examples of gay art and literary history. By considering the homosexulaity of such artistic types as Leonardo, Beethoven, Michelangelo, and Whitman, homophile discourse worked to confer a more positive status on the homosexual minority. As [The Homosexual in America (1951) author, Donald Webster] Cory puts it: “In identifying a great personality with a minority, the members of the [minority] group are actually identifying themselves to a large extent with their hero’s greatness”. Viewing themselves as possessing a superior artistic predisposition, and legitimating themselves in terms of a fine historical pedigree — that is, a history of great artists — it was possible for gay men to construe themselves as worthy and productive human beings. It was also through identifying themselves with these supposedly gay artists that homesexuals came to constitute theselves as members of a distinct minority group. As George Chauncey writes, “claiming certain historical figures was important to gay men not only because it validated their own homosexuality, but because it linked them to others. One of the ways groups of people constitute themselves as an ethnic, religious, or national community is by constructing a history that provides its members with a shared tradition and collective ancestors.”

     But this identification of a minority group through creative geniuses of the past was, according to Cory, a “particularly difficult task for homosexuals”. This was because of the general lack of biographical facts which might purport to prove an individual artist’s sexual orientation, as well as the willful falsification and distortion visited upon the lives of artists by homophobic biographers, critics, and art historians. As [William H.] Kupper notes in his article [Immortal Beethoven — a Repressed Homosexual? (One magazine, 1958)], “no evidence has ever turned up that [proves that] Beethoven had any homosexual experiences. This would not be surprising even if Beethoven were an overt homosexual , since his life is now cloaked by the mantel of time, conventions, and greatness.” And yet this does not stop him, nor others in the 1950s, in identifying homosexual geniuses in history, even if such an identification can never be established — as the logic of the archive might lead us to desire it — as “beyond doubt,” provable, and demonstrable with reference to documentary evidence.

Kupper, for instance, develops a Freudian line of inquiry by suggesting that Beethoven may have been a repressed homosexual … This Freudian line was particularly suitable to such early gay art historians because it allowed them to read homosexuality in the absence of of conventional evidence of overt homosexual behaviour and against the archive’s apparent desire to expunge homosexuality from history. As such Freudian and quasi-Freudian accounts were popularized through the homophile press, new forms od evidence of sexuality — biographical details or character traits which might be read as symptoms of some repressed or unspoken desire — came to be introduced into the everyday parlance of queer culture.

This lack of conventional hard evidence of the queerness of genius meant that many famous artists came to be queered through the circulation of rumour and suggestion, whether psychoanalytically inflected or otherwise.” –pp.59-60


“This identification of the world of high culture with homosexuality wasn’t limited to the United States either, and it finds comparable expression in the personal recollections of British film theorist Richard Dyer. For him, growing up gay and getting into high culture in 1950s Britain felt to him like much the same process, “namely the process of establishing an identity”:

“It is easy to see how easily I formed an equation between this [being queer] and being interested in culture … At a minimum, the world of culture just seemed like a place you could go if you were queer.”

… I cite Dyer here because he provides a useful formulation of the worlding of queerness within the context of an artistic life… Tellingly, this “world” — this place — was signaled to him, Dyer writes, by an “idea” of high culture suggested by “gossip includ[ing] the usual dirt on Shakespeare, Wilde, Tchaikovsky, Gielgud and the rest”.

This brings me to what I want to call, borrowing from the work of performance scholar José Esteban Muñoz, the queer world-making powers of gossip.” –pp.64-5

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