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literature

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Censorship  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  

Originally published in Paris in 1959, William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch, whose sexuality is almost entirely homosexual, was seized by Boston police on its first American publication in 1962 and finally declared obscene by a Boston court in 1965; the Massachusetts Supreme Court reversed the ban on appeal in 1966, however.

In 1976, on the basis of his privately circulated homosexual poems and letters, Gennady Trifonov, the only openly gay poet in the former Soviet Union, was sentenced to four years at hard labor under Article 121 of the Soviet criminal code, which prohibited homosexuality. Released in 1980, Trifonov was repeatedly denied an exit visa, and in 1986, was threatened with imprisonment again.

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He ultimately reversed himself painfully, publishing in 1989 what was in effect a turncoat article, in which he denounced Russian homosexual writing and other Russian homosexual authors (this despite the improved conditions at the time under Gorbachev).

In the West, progress has clearly been made for homosexuals since the start of the contemporary gay liberation movement in 1969, but instances of legal, institutional, or commercial censorship have nevertheless occurred since then.

In 1977, a British jury convicted Gay News and its editor Denis Lemon for publishing, in June 1976, James Kirkup's poem "The Love That Dares to Speak its Name," in which a Roman soldier and Christ make love. The charge was for blasphemy rather than obscenity, but the issue was clearly the poem's frank homosexuality; the paper was fined 1,000 pounds and faced costs of 20,000 pounds, while its editor was fined 500 pounds and jailed for nine months.

In the United States, the best-known recent government and institutional censorship has involved the visual and performing arts--for example, the Corcoran Gallery's cancellation of its Robert Mapplethorpe show in the summer of 1989; the National Endowment for the Arts' withdrawal of funds from the New York AIDS art show "Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing" in November 1989, partly because it included images of homosexual acts (reversed later in the month after opposition from the arts community); and the NEA's denial of grants in June 1990 to four performance artists known for the sexual content of their work, three of whom--Holly Hughes, John Fleck, and Tim Miller--were lesbian or gay.

Commercial pressures have been put on American gay writing as well. For example, a few weeks before its May 1993 New York opening, the producer of Tony Kushner's eventual hit, Angels in America, asked him to remove the subtitle--"A Gay Fantasia on National Themes"--from the play, but relented when he refused.

In Canada, the February 1992 Supreme Court ruling that expanded the definition of obscenity to include words and images that degrade or exploit women and other groups has led to an explosion of censorship against gay and lesbian writing, chiefly through seizure of foreign materials by customs officials. About one quarter of the books sent from the United States to the largest gay and lesbian bookstore in Toronto have been regularly seized, and among the noted homosexual authors who have had works thus banned are Jane Rule, David Leavitt, Albert Innaurato, and Jean Genet.

Conclusion

At present, the censorship of homosexuality by later commentators survives chiefly in the academic world, often in subtle forms. Textbooks and anthologies, for example, often simply fail to mention the sexual orientation of gay and lesbian writers, even when that orientation is crucial to the literature being presented.

More surprisingly, however, the "new-inventionist" movement that currently dominates gay studies, which argues that homosexuality is a relatively new historical invention and which denies the earlier existence of homosexuality and homosexuals, threatens to be a new form of censorship by stigmatizing scholarship that argues to the contrary and by excluding premodern materials from its curricula.

The current movement to reshape "gay studies" as " studies" seems to involve a related silencing of homosexuality, by deemphasizing it as a subject in favor of marginality of all kinds.

With the greater self-respect made possible by the gay liberation movement, and less material jeopardy because of legal changes, self-censorship among Western homosexual authors has become rare, though a few distinguished authors who are gay or lesbian still dissociate themselves completely from the subject.

These patterns of censorship, and the larger insistence on homosexuality's "unspeakableness" that they express, carry important implications for the study of gay history. For example, in clearly indicating that traditional culture's preferred situation for homosexuality is silence, they caution against the current trend in the history of sexuality to link a culture's awareness of homosexuality to its possession of a precise language for homosexuality.

On the contrary, this evidence suggests paradoxically that silence itself is traditional culture's first language for homosexuality and that a culture's lack of terminology for homosexuality can actually be a sign of that culture's awareness of homosexuality.

In addition, the apparent 400-year lag between the legal censorship and the other kinds of censorship discussed here cautions against giving too much weight to legal evidence in the study of gay history.

Although "new inventionism" credits the first appearance of laws directed specifically at homosexuality in the late nineteenth century with a major role in "inventing" homosexuality, the evidence here suggests that legal targeting of homosexuality does not so much reflect the first "existence" or awareness of homosexuality in a culture as indicate that a culture's earlier and more diffuse means of controlling homosexuality are breaking down and need buttressing.

The period when we first see a concerted tradition of legal censorship of homosexual writing emerging in the West, the mid-nineteenth century, is also the period when marked loosenings began to occur in the traditions of editorial censorship and self-censorship that the dominant culture had earlier counted on to keep homosexual writing silent.

Joseph Cady

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    Bibliography
   

Cady, Joseph. "'Masculine Love,' Renaissance Writing, and the 'New Invention' of Homosexuality." Homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment England: Literary Representations in Historical Context. Claude J. Summers, ed. New York: Haworth Press, 1992.

Crompton, Louis. Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th-Century England. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Green, Jonathan. Encyclopedia of Censorship. New York: Facts on File, 1990.

Grosskurth, Phyllis. Havelock Ellis. New York: Knopf, 1980.

Haight, Anne Lyon and Chandler B. Grannis. Banned Books, 387 BC to 1978 AD. 4th ed. New York: Bowker, 1978.

Hurwitz, Leon. Historical Dictionary of Censorship in the United States. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1985.

Martin, Robert Bernard. Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life. New York: Putnam's, 1991.

Martin, Robert K. The Homosexual Tradition in American Poetry. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979.

Ricks, Christopher. Tennyson. New York: Macmillan, 1972.

Rivers, J. E. Proust and the Art of Love. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.

Rollins, Hyder E., ed. A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: The Sonnets, 2 vols. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1944.

Saslow, James M. The Poetry of Michelangelo: An Annotated Translation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

White, Edmund. Genet. New York: Knopf, 1993.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Cady, Joseph  
    Entry Title: Censorship  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 13, 2011  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/censorship.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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