Norman Mailer and One - Billy Glover email

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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2010

Remembering... Norman Mailer

When I was a little queerling (this was fifteen years ago now - okay, twenty...) Norman Mailer was considered the enemy of the gay community; always a macho posturer, Mailer had once allegedly made some offhand comment about how gay men had somehow taken the easy way out by opting not to be with women. Given the humourless tone of gay officialdom in those days (unlike today, he wrote, rolling his eyes so hard he almost gave himself a stroke) Mailer's comment wasn't even permitted enough context in which to grow, let alone be understood...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketFast forward a dozen years, when what should cross my desk but an old paperback copy ofAdvertisements for Myself (1959), a collection of many of Mailer's earliest essays. Among them was an article he wrote in 1955 entitledThe Homosexual Villain regarding a pair of homophobic characters (among others) he had written - General Cummings, in his famous bestseller The Naked and the Dead (1948) and Teddy Pope in his forthcoming book The Deer Park (1955); the essay was unique in at least two respects.

Firstly, it was written specifically for the pioneering gay publicationOne (which had split from the early gay rights group the Mattachine Society in 1952) and when the article appeared Mailer's was far and away the most famous name ever to appear in its masthead. Secondly, the essay offered a profound apology for the laziness that went into making these characters, and for his own attitude, which had previously equated homosexuality with evil reflexively and without any introspection.

At the time, Mailer was the pre-eminent man of American letters, whose lofty fame offered an inbuilt protection from attacks by the lowly and oppressed. Although he later disdained the article as the worst he'd ever written the fact is that at least he wrote it; not only that, when the time came, he republished it. His own bravado meant that he was willing to say something poorly rather than not saying anything at all. Mailer's excoriation of homophobia - however mild - was well-publicized, and stands today as one of the earliest works by a straight man defending his gay brothers.

Mailer had a conflicted relationship to homosexuality at best; he was relatively comfortable with individual homosexuals and was an early defender of James Baldwin, to the extent of supplying Baldwin's explicitly gay novel Giovanni's Room (1956) with a quote for its jacket; he later even admitted to being a 'latent homosexual' himself, qualifying the statement by saying that he 'chose to be heterosexual' - a pretty provocative statement, then as now.

The fact is, he may have only said it to rile up the women's libbers, whose goat he loved to get at the height of their 1970s humourlessness. That they had already branded him an utterly masculine writer - 'without any spark of the female in him' - ought to have made him a kind of icon for the all-male world, rather than its sworn enemy. Unfortunately, centuries of relentless anti-gay violence have rendered the gay community immune to any comment by straight men, a situation which endured up to an indeed beyond this day in 2007, the day Norman Mailer died...

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