Today in Gay History

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August 10

Witter Bynner
1881 -

WITTER BYNNER, poet, writer and scholar. Best remembered for his classic translation of The Way of Life, according to Lao Tzu (1944). Initially he pursued a career in journalism at McClure's Magazine, Bynner then turned to writing. He was a charter member of the Poetry Society of America and was influential in getting the work of A.E. Housman and Ezra Pound published. In 1916 Bynner was one of the perpetrators of an elaborate literary hoax. It involved a purported 'Spectrist' school of poets. They published a book called "Spectra" that received accolades from Edgar Lee Masters and William Carlos Williams who were completely taken in by the ruse. Bynner meant it as a critique of the fashion of "ism" schools in poetry that were ruining poetry in his opinion. The incident, while successful, damaged his reputation in certain circles.

Bynner traveled to Japan and China and subsequently produced many translations from Chinese. His verse showed both Japanese and Chinese influences, but the latter were major. After a short time in academia (University of California, Berkeley), Bynner settled down in Santa Fe, in a relationship with Robert Hunt that would last for thirty-four years. Mabel Dodge Luhan, the doyenne of the intellectual community in Santa Fe & Taos at one point accused Bynner of "single-handedly introducing homosexuality into New Mexico." Bynner and Hunt became fixtures in Santa Fe. On January 18, 1965, Bynner had a severe stroke. He never recovered, and required constant care until he died on June 1, 1968. His papers are archived in the New Mexico State University Library. His last words were reported to have been, "Other people die, why can't I?"

L to R: Tristan Tzara and Rene Crevel by Man Ray
1900 -

RENÉ CREVEL is born in Paris. The only “out” member of the Dada movement of artists he was the founder of a number of short-lived literary magazines. His poetry was filled with death and castration themes. He told anyone who would listen he had been mutilated as an infant by being circumcised.

René Crevel "was born rebellious when others are born with blue eyes". Suffering from invalidating illnesses from an early age and knowing he would die young, the young boy dedicated his entire short existence to his revolutionary dreams. He first joined André Breton’s Surrealist movement, in 1921 before accompanying Tristan Tzara and the Dada from 1925 after having been expelled from the Surrealist group...René Crevel used his dark and fantastic writings to fight against everything: God, injustices or academicism. He united the avant-garde, high society and his communist combat. Sensing the rise of fascism in Europe, René Crevel exhausted his energy in vainly trying to reconcile Surrealism and Communism – an ultimate exalted battle.

Crevel killed himself just before his 35th birthday. It should be remembered that when André Breton included the question "Suicide: Is It a Solution?" in the first issue of La Revolucion surrealiste in 1925, Crevel was one of those who answered "Yes". He wrote "It is most probably the most correct and most ultimate solution."

Poet Mark Doty
1953 -

MARK DOTY is an American poet and memoirist born on this date,  best known for his work My Alexandria. He was the winner of the National Book Award for Poetry in 2008.  He was born in Maryville, Tennessee. He earned a Bachelor of Arts  from Drake University and received his M.F.A. in creative writing from Goddard College in Vermont

Doty is the author of nine books of poetry, most recently Deep Lane (W.W. Norton, 2015), a book of descents: into the earth beneath the garden, into the dark substrata of a life. He has also written essays on still life painting, objects and intimacy, and a handbook for writers. His volumes of poetry include Sweet Machine (HarperCollins, 1998), Source, (HarperCollins, 2002), School of the Arts (HarperCollins, 2005) and Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins, 2008), which received the National Book Award. 

Doty's three memoirs include Heaven's Coast, described as "searing" by The New York Times, is the excruciating journaling of his thoughts subsequent to hearing his lover's diagnosis with AIDS, a work "layered" with awarenesses like Dante's trip through hell (HarperCollins, 1996), and Firebird: A Memoir, an autobiography from six to sixteen, which tells the story of his childhood in the American South and in Arizona (HarperCollins, 1999). These first two memoirs received the American Library Associations Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award. His memoir, Dog Years (HarperCollins, 2005), was a New York Times Bestseller and received the Barbara Gittings Literature Award from the American Library Association in 2008. His latest memoir is What is The Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life (W. W. Norton & Company (April 2020).

Doty's essays include Still Life with Oysters and Lemon (Beacon Press, 2001), a book-length essay about 17th-century Dutch painting and our relationships to objects, and The Art of Description (Graywolf Books, 2010), a collection of four essays in which, "Doty considers the task of saying what you see, and the challenges of rendering experience through language." 

He served as guest editor for "The Best American Poetry 2012 (Scribners, 2012) and was the judge for the 2009 White Crane James White Poetry Prize. Among numerous notable prizes and awards, in 2011, Doty was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. 

He currently lives with his husband, Alexander Hadel, in New York City and in the hamlet of The Springs in East Hampton, New York. The couple married October 2015 in Muir Woods National Monument.

Andrew Sullivan
1963 -

ANDREW SULLIVAN, born; English-born bore, journalist, a libertarian conservative author and political commentator, distinguished by his often personal style of political analysis, and pioneering achievements in the field of blog journalism.

In May 2001, Village Voice columnist Michael Musto said that Sullivan had anonymously posted advertisements for bareback sex (anal sex without a condom) on America Online and the now-defunct website Subsequently, the Italian-American journalist and activist Michelangelo Signorile wrote about the scandal in a front-page article in the New York gay magazine LGNY, igniting a storm of controversy. Later, in a defiant blog post titled Sexual McCarthyism: An article no-one should have to write, Sullivan confirmed the allegations while lashing out at his detractors.

Sullivan's critics argue that it was hypocritical of Sullivan to engage in this kind of sexual activity while arguing against Gay sexual promiscuity. They claim that the vision of Gay sexuality presented in Sullivan's writing is at odds with the activities he was said to be engaging in. They also charge that because Sullivan is HIV-positive, it is unsafe for him to engage in sex without a condom. Sullivan's critics also contend that it is unfair for Sullivan to have criticized Bill Clinton’s's sexual indiscretions as "reckless" while engaging in unprotected sex himself. This scandal was parodied in the popular television show, Queer As Folk. In one episode, a well-known gay political commentator condemns a 30-year old Gay man for dating an 18-year old, only to be later caught attending a bareback sex party.

In late 2000, Sullivan began his blog, The Daily Dish. The core principle of the blog has been the style of conservatism he views as traditional. This includes fiscal conservatism, limited government, and classic libertarianism on social issues. Sullivan opposes government involvement with respect to sexual and consensual matters between adults, such as the use of marijuana and prostitution. He supported marriage equality as a civil right. 

In February 2007, Sullivan moved his blog from Time to The Atlantic Monthly, where he had accepted an editorial post. His presence was estimated to have contributed as much as 30% of the subsequent traffic increase for The Atlantic's website. In 2009, The Daily Dish won the 2008 Weblog Award for Best Blog.

Sullivan left The Atlantic to begin blogging at The Daily Beast in April 2011. In 2013, he announced that he was leaving The Daily Beast to launch The Dish as a stand-alone website, charging subscribers $20 a year. In a note posted on The Dish in January 2015, Sullivan announced his decision to retire from blogging. He posted his final blog entry on February 6, 2015.

Paul Thek
1988 -

PAUL THEK (b: 1933) died on this date. Thek was an American painter and, later, sculptor and installation artist. Born in Brooklyn, he studied locally, at the Art Students League and the Pratt Institute. In 1951 he entered the Cooper Union.

Although Thek began as a painter, he became known later in life for his sculptures and installations. Notable works include Technological Reliquaries (1964-67), a series of wax sculptures of human body parts, and The Tomb, a bright pink pyramid installation or "environment", which was badly damaged in 1981 but is documented in Edwin Klein's black and white photographs. Today his work may be seen in numerous collections, including that of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

After his return to New York in 1959, his artistic circle of friends included photographer Peter Hujar, as well as Joe Raffaele, artist Eva Hesse and Ann Wilson, in addition to Gene Swenson and Susan Sontag.  From 1959 until 1962, Thek worked as a textile designer for Prince Studios in New York. During the years between 1962 and 1964, Thek lived and worked in Rome, until his return to New York in 1964. In 1964, he participated in Screen Test by Andy Warhol. His works from 1966 were produced by casting parts from his own body. From the late 1960s and onward, Thek aroused interest with his processual and situation-oriented installations and environments.

During the 1970s, Thek lived in Italy, where he created many works in conjunction with friend and photographer Peter Hujar. In 1976, Thek returned to New York once again. Having lost what prestige he had accumulated in the American art scene of the 1960s, he spent his remaining days washing floors and bagging groceries, however creating art all along. On August 10, 1988, Thek, weakened by HIV/AIDS, died of illness. Susan Sontag dedicated her classic and influential 1966 collection of critical essays, Against Interpretation, which took up with the latest developments in European critical thought -- notably that of Roland Barthes -- and her later AIDS and its Metaphors to Thek's memory.

Thek, who was bisexual, died of AIDS related illness in New York City in 1988, aged 54.

L to R: Brigadier General Tammy Smith with her wife, Tracey Hepner
2012 -

BRIGADIER GENERAL TAMMY S. SMITH, a 26-year veteran of the Army became the first out Lesbian officer of flag rank in the United States military on this date.

At her Arlington National Cemetery ceremony, her star was affixed to her uniform by her wife, and co-founder of the Miitary Partners and Families Coalition, TRACEY HEPNER. As a colonel, General Smith was deployed in Afghanistan from December 2010 to October 2011 as the chief of Army Reserve Affairs. She served in Washington D.C. as the deputy chief of the Army Reserve. As of May 2017 she serves as Commandant of Cadets, U.S. Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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