*MAJOR UPDATE IN PROGRESS* I’m revising this entire website, including LGBTQ+ Literature & Film, and this essay on “Why a LGBTQ+ Focus?”
Why a Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer-Plus (LGBTQ+) Focus?
That’s a question which many people, of all orientations, have asked. It seems a good topic for discussion.
A brief answer is, Because considering the LGBTQ+ dimension does make a difference in understanding the work, the artist, and a society.
While a person’s sexual orientation is not the sole basis for their life, it is an integral part of who they are and of what they create. Experiencing literature, film, the visual arts, or music in this context can reveal more levels of a work’s meaning: aesthetic, biographical, even historical and cultural.
A related question is, What defines an artist, or any person, as LGBTQ+? I think the rigid definition held by the U.S. military, before the repeal of the discriminatory and wasteful “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, is right on target. Someone is LGBTQ+-identified if they have “homosexual tendencies,” that is, profound emotional connections to persons of the same gender, whether or not they act on those feelings.
Our sexual nature is at the core of our being. It informs not only how we live, whether openly or in some form of hiding, but how we perceive ourselves, the world, and what we create.
Virtually every society has made an issue of sexual identity, whether holding LGBTQ+ people in esteem (classical Greece and Rome, many Native American cultures, feudal Japan, an increasing number of modern societies) or opprobrium (Europe from the Dark Ages until the latter 20th century, parts of the United States, the Middle East, Africa). No one can escape a connection to their culture, whether they embrace its values or struggle for change. One such response is art.
LGBTQ+ artists have produced works as diverse as the scintillating, and socially conscious, wit of Oscar Wilde’s comedies and Leonard Bernstein’s musicals and Andy Warhol’s canvases, the brooding mysteries of Dickinson’s poetry and Murnau’s films and Francis Bacon’s paintings, the ambiguous beauties of Tchaikovsky’s ballets and Woolf’s novels and Cocteau’s fantasies, and the celebratory visions of Michelangelo’s architecture and Handel’s music and Whitman’s poetry. Beginning almost 5,000 years ago with the Gilgamesh, there is an ongoing, and expanding, conversation between LGBTQ+ creators in all forms of expression, their audiences, and society. That conversation touches on such timeless questions as, Who am I?, and Who are we?, and What is essential, in our nature and cultures?
Sadly, even some people who admire these and other classics (or at least their cultural cachet) simultaneously mandate silence, or obfuscation, about LGBTQ+ lives. A substantial number of the creators highlighted at this site are bisexual, but while their opposite-sex relationships are given prominence – by some scholars, the popular press, Hollywood – their same-sex relationships are kept in the closet. So the need simply to identify those artists as LGBTQ+ still exists.
Such a focus can promote a deeper understanding both of a work of art and the person who created it, as well as of their particular culture. That can increase everyone’s appreciation and enjoyment of their enduring achievements, and perhaps even expand the bounds of our empathy. Such a focus can also help empower LGBTQ+ people.
Two individuals once wrote to express their appreciation for the information here. From across the globe, one was a young man from the American Midwest who was just coming out, the other a woman from China, who somehow found this site despite the censors. Each said how important it was to them to learn about these extraordinary creators, and to feel connected to them. The LGBTQ+ tradition is diverse, proud, and sometimes feisty, encompassing the world and extending thousands of years, from Sappho to Shakespeare to Susan Sontag, and hundreds of others, with countless more to come. It’s part of our shared humanity, encouraging us to see, and accept, others for who they are, and to be ourselves.
Begun 1997 / Revised September 14, 2020