The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, July 16
July 16th, 2013
THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
55 YEARS AGO: “My Daughter Is a Lesbian: 1958. Stonewall was still eleven years away. The first Christopher Street Liberation Day march occurred a year after that. And it was two years after that when Jeanne Manford marched with her son during that year’s CSLD parade with a sign reading “Parents of Gays Unite in Support for Our Children.” In 1958, visibility remained perhaps the single greatest hurdle for gay people. due to the dangers of being out — police raids (see Aug 14), arrest (see Jun 23), loss of job (see Mar 22, Dec 20), commitment to a psychiatric hospital (see Apr 14, Jul 26), murder (see Aug 3) — being visible was simply not an option for most people. There were few visible examples of gay people, and almost no visible examples of family members who accepted and supported their gay relatives. The three major early homophile publications — ONE, The Mattachine Review, and The Ladder — sought to change that in various ways.
Fifty-five years ago this month, The Ladder, the Daughters of Bilitis’ official newsletter, published this commentary from one mother of a lesbian daughter. What makes this short essay interesting is the many unspoken stereotypes that the author had to contend with. Countering the assumption that gay people were sick sociopaths, she described her daughter having “no frustrations or problems.” Countering the prediction that her daughter would live a life of spinsterhood, she described her daugheter’s “congenial, intelligent, loving and kind ‘mate’.” Against the prevailing view that mothers were responsible for their child’s sexuality, she defended her daughter’s morality (“she could not be cheap and promiscuous”) and her good citizenship. And to counter society’s assumptions that a faithful heterosexual marriage was every woman’s birthright, she offered the example of her own sad marriage. In all, this isn’t so much a portrait of a mother and her lesbian daughter, but a counter-narrative to the prevailing opinions of gay people at that time. The essay’s defensiveness isn’t what we would recognize as a proclamation of pride, but when you consider how oppresive the dominant assumptions were at that time, Mrs. Doris Lyles had to start somewhere.
My daughter is a Lesbian. By all measures of accepted society, that is a pretty blunt statement. If I were an average mother, I wouldn’t even bring this assertion out and
view it furtively, even when alone. Nevertheless, I do not think I would come under what one would call average, and I say this in a far from self-satisfied manner. However, I do not believe in hiding truth under our stilted, self-imposed laws of society. Many people today are frustrated and under mental treatment because of these frustrations, simply because they refuse to face the truth and prefer to delude themselves in so many ways.
My daughter from small girlhood seemed to be a little different from the average child. For one thing, she was above average mentally and had very strong will power and determination that even in childhood seemed to brook no interference. Frankly, I believe that if I had been a dictatorial, demanding mother whose child had to bend to her ego and demands, I might have had a pretty serious case of delinquency to contend with today, instead of an intelligent, serious-minded daughter who holds a fine position in a respected professional field, lives what is for her a full, rounded-out life of contentment and security, with no frustrations or problems, at least none that amount to much.
I will be very frank in saying that I am lucky in that she found a congenial, intelligent, loving and kind “mate” in this association of which I am aware but do not understand completely as a normal mother and wife. I do not like that word “normal” applied here, for there are nO two more normal persons alive than my daughter and her charming associate.
In finding out about my daughter’s preferences, I had one very firm belief. I knew she would find someone of kindred tastes and lead a very circumspect life no matter what path she chose, for I knew my child and understood she could not be cheap and promiscuous, whether Lesbian or heterosexual. This thought was a great comfort and from the beginning I knew she would need love, appreciation and understanding from me; not censure, shame or withdrawal. One thing I have done to an extent most people would feel was too much to the extreme: I have left her to her own devices and now, in her middle twenties, she leads her own life completely and when she wishes to come to me, for whatever period of time she chooses, she knows she is welcome and won’t be importuned to “come oftener” and “stay longer”. As a child, I led a sheltered life in which my mother dominated all my moves and actions. When she passed away, I was at completely loose ends and made a very foolish marriage which would not have happened had I been free to follow my ovm course in life. This had made me wary of being possessive and trying to shape and run the lives of others. As a consequence, I think I have my daughter’s love and loyalty — even to a greater degree than most mothers who make demands and expect them to be carried out.
With the background of theatrical people during my childhood, I learned rather early that all of us, men or women, did not come within the realm of “norms.” Maybe this is why my daughter’s fate didn’t seem so terrible to me. I could think of a great many worse things, such as the unhappy twenty years of marriage I had shed at the time I learned of my daughter’s “difference”. I spent those years with a man who was a congenital liar, who preferred a lie when the truth would have served him better, and who couldn’t leave town for a week’s trip as a Salesman who travelled without having his quota of affairs with anyone — waitresses, nurses, — he seemed to prefer uniforms. It was a question of keeping my marriage together by not digging too deeply in the barrel, and keeping my temper, but definitely losing my self-respect. This I believe is a fate far worse for a girl. Maybe I’m wrong and maybe I should use every means within my power to help my daughter in her situation, but frankly I do not believe she needs help from me or anyone else. If ever the time should come when she feels the need for advice or counsel, I only hope I will be able to advise her wisely, but certainly not against what she believes with all her being to be her path in life.
We preach freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and even though reams and reams have been written on the subject, there are very few who will admit belief in freedom of love.
[Source: Mrs. Doris Lyles. “My Daughter Is a Lesbian.” The Ladder 2, no. 10 (July 1958):4-5.]
Tony Kushner: 1956. He is most acclaimed for his Pulitzer prize-winning play, Angels In America, the seven-hour epic about the AIDS crises in the Ed Koch-era of New York. Kushner wrote the play for eight actors, but stipulated that each of the actors was to play multiple roles (including multiple genders) throughout the production. When he adapted the play for an HBO miniseries starring Meryl Streep and Al Pacino, the same construct was applied. In addition to the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Kushner won the Tony Awards for Best Play in 1993 and 1994 (Angels In America is actually in two parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, each having its own separate Broadway debut.)
After the turn of the new millennium, Kushner began writing for film, co-writing the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s Munich. Most recently, he was the screenwriter for Spielberg’s Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, for which Kushner won an Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and a Writers Guild award for best adapted screenplay. In 2013, Kushner was one of twenty-four recipients for the National Medal of Arts and Humanities from President Barack Obama.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?