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literature

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

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Jewish-American Literature  
 
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In addition, Wasteland provided lesbians with a role model both in the protagonist and in the author who had created her. Its celebration of the interconnectedness of ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation makes Wasteland an important forerunner of the contemporary anthology Twice Blessed: On Being Lesbian or Gay and Jewish (1989).

Sinclair would not again broach the subject of lesbianism that boldly; only during the tolerant war years did she feel comfortable enough to create an openly lesbian protagonist.

Sponsor Message.

The problem of being a butch Jewish lesbian in the conformist 1950s, a subject Sinclair chose not to confront in her fiction, has been brilliantly evoked recently by Leslie Feinberg in Stone Butch Blues (1993).

Stanford Friedman's Stephen Wolfe

It would take almost another twenty years before an American Jewish gay male author would create a protagonist to stand side by side with Debbie Brown. Paul Goodman's novels Parents' Day (1951) and Making Do (1963) are significant stepping stones in that direction, but the first Jewish gay main character is Stephen Wolfe of Sanford Friedman's 1965 novel Totempole.

The novel follows Stephen's life, from a privileged youth growing up on New York's Riverside Drive during the Depression, through his college years, to his tour of duty in Korea where he finally learns to accept his homosexuality through the thoughtful and compassionate help of a Korean prisoner of war.

Stephen's psychological problems clearly derive from his upbringing as a Jew. At summer camp, he develops his first infatuation with one of the male camp counselors. At the same time, his Hebrew lessons emphasize the concept of "uncleanness," which the adolescent associates with masturbation.

Friedman carefully explores the repressiveness of Stephen's upbringing and the repercussions it has on him through his college years. Although he commences a sexual relationship with his uninhibited roommate, his deeply seated religious fears die hard; he reads St. Augustine and does penance.

Finally, in Korea where Stephen is completing his military tour of duty in a prisoner of war camp, the psychological barriers he has erected around himself break down with the help of Pak Sun Bo, who teaches Stephen not to despise his own body. At the end of the novel, Stephen has liberated himself from his childhood terrors and is ready to return to the United States with a clear sexual identity.

The novel is a gay Bildungsroman; Stephen renounces that part of his Jewish heritage that has been psychologically maiming him. In this respect, the novel presents a much more pessimistic outlook about the possibilities of reconciling ethnic and religious traditions and sexual orientation than Jo Sinclair offered in 1946.

Gene Horowitz's Privates

In contrast to Stephen Wolfe, the characters of Privates (1986), a novel by Gene Horowitz, do not experience any guilt. Although the main scenes of the novel also take place during the Korean war, they are flashbacks framed by scenes of contemporary life. It is possible that Horowitz's contemporary setting has affected his characters' memories.

Certainly such easy reconciliation between Jewishness and gay identity was not conceivable for Friedman writing in pre-Stonewall days, though poet Allen Ginsberg was able to incorporate both aspects of his identity even in his works that antedate Stonewall.

The Post-Stonewall Flourishing of Gay and Lesbian Jewish Writing

Not surprisingly, however, most openly gay and lesbian American Jewish writing has appeared in the post-Stonewall era. The sheer number of fiction writers, poets, and playwrights who have achieved recognition is astounding.

One of the trends of the literature of the past twenty-five years is that gay male writers usually treat Jewishness as an ethnic and cultural identity, whereas lesbian authors also explore the religious dimensions of Judaism.

Gay Male Fiction

Geoffrey Linden's novel Jigsaw (1974) is an early post-Stonewall attempt to reconcile ethnicity and sexual orientation. The narrative structure artfully juxtaposes first-person diary entries with a third-person narrative. The pattern is random to reflect the novel's title; the reader is thus challenged to create a full psychological portrait of Steven Tucker, the protagonist. In the absence of positive Jewish gay role models, Steven feels an overbearing sense of guilt that he only slowly overcomes with the help of a psychiatrist.

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