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Gay and Lesbian Characters in Their Own Social Milieu

Some modern gay and lesbian novelists may choose to write about gay and lesbian characters in their own social milieu, but they run the risk of being "ghettoized," or limited to a gay or lesbian readership.

John Preston's Franny, The Queen of Provincetown (1983) places a charmingly effeminate man in one of the few resorts where at certain moments gays may seem to be the majority. Jane DeLynn's Don Juan in the Village (1990) takes its narrator on a far-ranging quest for lesbian love, whose discouragements are reported with bitingly ironic wit. Larry Kramer's Faggots (1978) is a comic assault on the promiscuous sexual mores of the fledgling gay community. Ethan Mordden's I've a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore (1983) is subtitled "Tales of Gay Manhattan."

The Humor in Gay and Lesbian Poetry

The humor in gay poetry is usually a very individual matter, ranging from the mildly amusing to the raucously ribald to the bitterly sarcastic, sometimes suffusing entire poems and other times appearing in just a small section, even just a single line or comparison.

Stephen Coote in his Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse (1983) has collected some (mercifully) anonymous limericks:

A young Harvard man, sweet and tender,
Went out with some queers on a bender.
He came back in two days
In a sexual haze,
No longer quite sure of his gender.

W. H. Auden writes contemptuously of "Uncle Henry":

Weady for some fun,
visit yearly Wome, Damascus,
in Mowocco look for fwesh a-
musin' places.

Such humor seems quaint compared to more contemporary lesbian and gay verse, whose mockery ranges from gentle to savage.

Frank O'Hara's "Homosexuality" has a candor that is somewhat unrefreshing when he evaluates the "tearooms" where men had sex on Manhattan's Lexington Avenue subway line:

14th Street is drunken and credulous,
53rd tries to tremble but is too at rest. The good
love a park and the inept a railway station.

Marilyn Hacker's humor in "Sonnet Ending with a Film Subtitle" has an angry edge:

Some day we women all will break our fetters
And raise our daughters to be Lesbians.
(I wonder if the bastard kept my letters?)
Here follow untranslatable French puns.

But Allen Ginsberg clearly had a twinkle in his eye when he imagined his poetic ancestor in "A Supermarket in California":

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old
grubber, poking
among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the
grocery boys.

Edward Field pretends to be self-pitying as he stands next to a wanted poster hoping to be recognized in "Unwanted":

I was unwanted then and I'm unwanted now
Ah guess ah'll go up echo mountain and crah.

And Daryl Hine wistfully recalls a social encounter with a boy who earlier had been part of a gang that attacked him in "March," a section from the book-length narrative of his school days, Academic Festival Overtures (1985):

If dancing with girls had always felt like a duty,
Dancing with my own sex was a pleasant surprise.
Being older, more masculine-looking and bigger,
My impetuous partner masterfully led,
While servile but inefficient I tried to follow,
Two beats behind the music or two steps ahead.

Carl Morse's humor is used as a weapon against heterosexual oppression in "Dream of the Artfairy," in which all the art and music made by fairies becomes invisible to straights:

And then in the classroom of our days
the fairy voices died--in mid-pronunciation. So:

--I taste a liquor never brewed
      from tankards ____ __ ___,
--The mass of men lead lives __ _____ ___________,
--A rose is a rose __ _ ____,
--They told me to take a streetcar _____ ______,
--Out of the cradle _________ _______,
--Call me _______ . . . *

*If you filled in any of the above, even in your head, you may be a gifted fairy.

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