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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.

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.


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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arts >> Overview:  Censorship in the Arts

Many gay and lesbian artists who have defied the legal and social prohibitions against explicit or sympathetic depictions of homosexuality have seen their art censored or suppressed.

social sciences >> Overview:  Libraries and Archives

Libraries and archives have been the sources of information crucial to the difficult process of identity formation and have been significant repositories for the restoration and reconstruction of queer history.

social sciences >> Overview:  Vancouver

With a constant influx of immigrants and a vigorous and adaptable economy, Vancouver is a progressive city with a large and active glbtq community.

literature >> Baldwin, James Arthur

James Baldwin, a pioneering figure in twentieth-century literature, wrote sustained and articulate challenges to American racism and mandatory heterosexuality.

literature >> Baudelaire, Charles

Baudelaire was among the first French poets to include lesbians as subjects.

literature >> Bentham, Jeremy

The most notable law reformer in the English-speaking world, English philosopher, jurist, economist, and political scientist Jeremy Bentham argued for a tolerant attitude toward homosexuality in a series of papers first published in full in 1985.

literature >> Burroughs, William S.

Both in his life and his novels, American writer William S. Burroughs was an outlaw and a provocateur, focusing on sexual repression as the fundamental element of social control and writing in a surrealistic and bitterly satirical mode.

literature >> Byron, George Gordon, Lord

The bisexual Lord Byron treated many of his homosexual love affairs in his poetry, encoding them by the use of classical references or by purporting that they were affairs with women.

arts >> Cadmus, Paul

American painter Paul Cadmus is best known for the satiric innocence of his frequently censored paintings of burly men in skin-tight clothes, but he also created works that celebrate same-sex domesticity.

literature >> Cleland, John

Although predominately heterosexual in its orientation, John Cleland's Fanny Hill has passages which give insight into lesbian and male homosexual roles and practices in eighteenth-century England.

social sciences >> Ellis, Havelock

Henry Havelock Ellis--British psychologist and writer--was one of the first modern thinkers to challenge Victorian taboos against the frank and objective discussion of sex.

literature >> Ford, Charles Henri (1910?-2002), and Parker Tyler (1904-1974)

Members of New York's early twentieth-century avant-garde, Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler are also the authors of a widely suppressed and largely unread experimental novel of 1930s gay life, The Young and Evil.

literature >> Forster, E. M.

One of the finest English novelists of the twentieth century and a tireless defender of humane values, Forster deserves a special place in the gay and lesbian literary heritage.

literature >> Overview:  Gay and Lesbian Bookstores

The network of independent gay and lesbian bookstores that arose in the 1970s served as incubators for the literary and cultural development of the modern gay rights movement in the United States and abroad.

literature >> Genet, Jean

Jean Genet's work has left a powerful legacy to post-modernity and remains a provocation to questions of gay identity.

literature >> Gide, André

André Gide, one of the premier French writers of the twentieth century, reflected his homosexuality in many of his numerous works.

literature >> Ginsberg, Allen

The forthrightly gay Allen Ginsberg is probably the best-known American poet to emerge in the post-World War II period.

literature >> Hall, Radclyffe

Radclyffe Hall, who lived her lesbianism openly and proudly, is best known for The Well of Loneliness, arguably the most important lesbian novel ever written.

social sciences >> Hirschfeld, Magnus

German-born Magnus Hirschfeld deserves recognition as a significant theorist of sexuality and the most prominent advocate of homosexual emancipation of his time.

literature >> Hopkins, Gerard Manley

In some of the most original poetry of the Victorian period, the sexually-repressed Gerard Manley Hopkins celebrated male beauty as one of the most splendid witnesses to the divine.

literature >> Housman, A. E.

A. E. Housman's poetry is inextricably rooted in homosexual experience and consciousness and is also a significant reflector of gay history.

arts >> Hughes, Holly

Lesbian feminist performance artist Holly Hughes has a flair for telling the outrageous stories of everyday lesbian life.

arts >> Innaurato, Albert

Playwright Albert Innaurato's plays are as remarkable for the marginalizing ethnic identity, sexual orientation, and body image of their characters as they are for the author's refusal to adopt politically correct attitudes.

literature >> Jowett, Benjamin

Benjamin Jowett, classical scholar and translator whose bowdlerization of Plato illustrates the dishonesty made necessary by Victorian homophobia, was probably homosexual in orientation.

literature >> Kushner, Tony

In addition to being a prize-winning playwright, Tony Kushner has become a celebrity spokesman for gay politics and AIDS activism.

literature >> Lawrence, D. H.

For his time, D. H. Lawrence was a maverick in his open and adventurous discussion of all sexual issues and especially homosexuality, both male and female.

literature >> Leavitt, David

Novelist and short story writer David Leavitt is one of the brightest stars of the gay literary world today.

arts >> Lynes, George Platt

American photographer George Platt Lynes made his fame as a fashion and portrait photographer, but his greatest work may have been his dance images and male nudes.

arts >> Mapplethorpe, Robert

American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's controversial images typically combine rigorously formal composition and design with extreme subject matter.

literature >> Matthiessen, F.O.

Critic F. O. Matthiessen was instrumental in the inclusion of gay writers in American literary history, and the exchange of letters between him and his lover Russell Cheney are among the most revealing gay male documents of the 1920s.

literature >> Michelangelo Buonarroti

Best known for his genius in art and architecture, Michelangelo was also an accomplished author of homoerotic poetry.

arts >> Michelangelo Buonarroti

The most famous artist who ever lived, Michelangelo left an enormous legacy in sculpture, painting, drawing, architecture, and poetry; while the artist's sexual behavior cannot be documented, the homoerotic character of his drawings, letters, and poetry is unmistakable.

literature >> Miller, Neil

Historian and journalist Neil Miller has attempted to widen the understanding of gay and lesbian life by moving away from the major metropolitan areas, focusing instead on small cities and rural areas.

arts >> Miller, Tim

Performance artist Tim Miller presents shows that are rooted in his own life experiences, but that are also a powerful form of glbtq activism.

literature >> Pater, Walter

The aesthetic of the important and influential Victorian critic Walter Pater reflected a homosexual sensibility.

literature >> Plato

Among Greek writers on homosexual themes, Plato is preeminent not only as a major philosopher but also as the greatest master of Greek prose.

literature >> Proust, Marcel

Marcel Proust is the author of A la recherche du temps perdu, one of the major achievements of Modernism and a great gay novel.

literature >> Renault, Mary

After five novels which included suggested lesbianism, Mary Renault turned to open male homosexuality in the last nine, which included The Charioteer and eight celebrated historical novels set in ancient Greece.

literature >> Rochester, John Wilmot, Earl of

In his poetry and his dramatic farce Sodom, the Restoration rake Rochester depicts heterosexual love as imperfect or incomplete and offers homosexual intercourse as a natural alternative.

literature >> Rule, Jane

Though dealing forthrightly with lesbian and gay subjects, the novels and criticism of Jane Rule are deliberately nonpolitical in their commitment to diverse communities and a range of experiences.

literature >> Sackville-West, Vita

Best known for her relationship with Virginia Woolf and for her scandalous love affairs, Vita Sackville-West was a prolific author of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

literature >> Sanchez, Alex

Alex Sanchez's unique background as a youth and family counselor and his experiences as an immigrant have helped make him an important voice in today's young adult glbtq literature canon.

literature >> Sarton, May

May Sarton, who gradually revealed her lesbianism in her writing, worked successfully in poetry, the novel, essays, and the journal.

literature >> Shakespeare, William

As one of the key figures that western civilization has used to define itself, William Shakespeare stands in a complicated, fiercely contested relationship to homosexuality.

literature >> Stein, Gertrude

In addition to becoming--with Alice B. Toklas--half of an iconic lesbian couple, Gertrude Stein was an important innovator and transformer of the English language.

literature >> Swinburne, Algernon Charles

Algernon Charles Swinburne was interested in flagellation, sadomasochism, bisexuality, and lesbianism, not only for their erotics but also as gestures of social and cultural rebellion.

literature >> Symonds, John Addington

John Addington Symonds was the most daring innovator in the history of nineteenth-century British homosexual writing and consciousness.

literature >> Tennyson, Alfred Lord

Although he was sexually attracted to women, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote poetry suffused with homoeroticism, including the most beautiful homoerotic elegy in the English language.

literature >> Wescott, Glenway

American writer Glenway Wescott is author of a series of critically esteemed novels, but may be best known for his central position in New York's artistic and gay communities of the 1950s and 1960s.

literature >> Wheeler, Monroe

Publisher, book designer, and museum director, Monroe Wheeler was a leading figure in New York artistic and gay communities of the 1950s and 1960s, alongside his partner of sixty-eight years, the writer Glenway Wescott. 

literature >> Whitman, Walt

Celebrating an ideal of manly love in both its spiritual and physical aspects, Walt Whitman has exerted a profound and enduring influence on gay literature.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

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.

literature >> Wright, Doug

The works of award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and librettist Doug Wright often focus on the unconventional lives of society\'s outsiders.

literature >> Yew, Chay

Critically acclaimed Asian-American playwright Chay Yew has consistently produced provocative drama addressing issues of racism, homophobia, and censorship.


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  
    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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