Although gay, lesbian, and queer theory are related practices, the three terms delineate separate emphases marked by different assumptions about the relationship between gender and sexuality.
The Harlem Renaissance, an African-American literary movement of the 1920s and 1930s, included several important gay and lesbian writers.
Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.
Langston Hughes, whose literary legacy is enormous and varied, was closeted, but homosexuality was an important influence on his literary imagination, and many of his poems may be read as gay texts.
Conflicted over his own sexuality, Tennessee Williams wrote directly about homosexuality only in his short stories, his poetry, and his late plays.
Erotic and pornographic works have been written in many cultures since ancient times and recently have flourished with the relaxation of censorship.
Feminist literary theory is a complex, dynamic area of study that draws from a wide range of critical theories.
James Baldwin, a pioneering figure in twentieth-century literature, wrote sustained and articulate challenges to American racism and mandatory heterosexuality.
In response to the media saturation coverage of Jason Collins's coming out, and the prominence of news stories about marriage equality and other glbtq issues, a frequent complaint from heterosexuals is that we should just shut up about being gay. The theory is that if homosexuality were not so much in the news, there would be less opposition. In a powerful column in the New York Times, Frank Bruni explains why we must keep speaking out and tells us when we will be able to just shut up.
Bruni begins by observing that Collins is the "perfect" trailblazer, given his education, connections, values, and eloquence, to say nothing of the fact that "he's strapping even by the brawny standards of the National Basketball Association, and his designated role on the court, as a human roadblock against the most physically imposing opponents, is an aggressive one."
But he is most struck by the opening paragraph in Collins's Sports Illustrated coming out story, "I'm a 34-year-old N.B.A. center. I'm black. And I'm gay." As Bruni observes, Collins's homosexuality is presented simply as a detail, along with his age, profession, and race, rather than as the sum total of who he is, even as the purpose of the story is to clarify who he is.
"That's the integrated way that things should be," Bruni writes, "the unremarkable way a person's sexual orientation ought to be lived and perceived. And that's precisely what Collins and his fellow trailblazers are trying to move us toward: not a constant discussion of the rightful place and treatment of L.G.B.T. people in America, but an America in which the discussion is no longer necessary. He's letting us focus on his gayness precisely so we can focus less on others' down the road."
Bruni acknowledges that some question why so much attention is being lavished on Collins for coming out and that many believe we make too much "fuss" about being gay or lesbian. He notes that his readers routinely tell him that they would be "less bothered by homosexuals if we'd just please shut up about it."
In response, he says we'd also like to be able to shut up and that we will gladly shut up someday when . . .
"when a gay, lesbian or transgendered kid isn't at special risk of being brutalized or committing suicide. When the federal government outlaws discrimination against people based on sexual orientation . . . ."
"When immigration laws give same-sex couples the same consideration that they do heterosexual ones. When the Defense of Marriage Act crumbles and our committed relationships aren't relegated to a lesser status, a diminished dignity."
"When a Rutgers coach doesn't determine that the aptly ugly garnish for hurling basketballs at his players' heads is the slur 'faggot.' When professional football scouts don't try to ascertain that potential recruits are straight."
"When an athlete like Collins can be honest about himself without he and his co-author having to stress that he's a guy's guy, a godly man, someone who stayed mum about himself before now precisely so he wouldn't disrupt his teams or upset his teammates, someone who's inhabited locker rooms for 12 seasons already without incident."
"When a gay person's central-casting earnestness and eloquence aren't noted with excitement and relief, because his or her sexual orientation needn't be accompanied by a litany of virtues and accomplishments in order for bigotry to be toppled and a negative reaction to be overcome."
"When being gay doesn't warrant a magazine cover or a phone call from the president, any more than being 34 or being black does."
Then, maybe, then we can shut up about being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer.
Jason Collins's courageous coming forward helps speed us on the way toward a time when being gay even in the National Basketball Association will be no more newsworthy than learning that a ballet dancer or a fashion designer is gay.
In the video below, Jason Collins discusses his coming out with George Stephanopoulis on Good Morning America.
In the following video, Ellen DeGeneres applauds Jason Collins and promises to "hug his knees."