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Unformatted text preview: The Gay and Lesbian Presence in American Literature by David Bergman Towson State University Unlike African American literature or Asian American literature or even Jewish American literature, the teaching of lesbian and gay literature does not necessarily require opening the canon to new authors. It does require, however, opening our eyes to what is already there. I cant imagine teaching a course in American literature that entirely eliminated all lesbian and male homosexual writers. How could one get through a course completely silent about Walt Whitman, Henry James, Henry David Thoreau, H.D., Herman Melville, Elizabeth Bishop, James Baldwin, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Hart Crane, Allen Ginsberg, Gertrude Stein, Audre Lorde, and Adrienne Rich? I suspect that all teachers of American literature assign at least some of these writers because the story of American literature cant be told without acknowledging lesbian and gay writers, although it has often been told by ignoring that they were gay and lesbian and by omitting works that speak most clearly about their sexual orientation. The late Thomas Yingling wrote that gay male writers were permitted to speak but not to tell. It is also true of teachers of American literature we speak about these authors, but often we do not tell. Why this silence? Of course, we know the answer to this question, or rather the answers to this question. Homosexuality is the last great taboo of American society. Soldiers who say they are ready to die for their country refuse to take showers with homosexuals. Those who would defend to the death the right of freedom of speech would rather people kept mum about their homosexuality. In education, parents fear that talk of homosexuality will promote its practice or recruit young people, although I have never met anyone who was recruited into the ranks of the queer; conversely, I've never heard anyone explain why all the talk of heterosexuality hasnt made everyone straight. Teachers feel uncomfortable discussing sexual preference; students are often uncomfortable when the topic is raised, and administrators feel the legislators, alumni, or the press will object and (dare I use the phrase?) blow the subject out of proportion. Some of these fears are exaggerated. I have never had a student object to my treating lesbian and homosexual subjects in class, but I have known colleagues who have had students object. Indeed, my students seem particularly interested in the subject, and the topic stirs lively discussions. The love that once dared not speak its name is currently the topic on the lips of every talk show host on daytime television....
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- Spring '08