Monday, May 15, 2006

Creativity [II, 14]

There has long been a popular view that gay men, who are supposedly unproficient in physical activities (sports) and lack the hardheadedness to be successful businessmen, tend to go into the arts. In their youth well-meaning parents and mentors may even steer them into such a career to them. Even casual observation reveals that the worlds of ballet, the theater, and interior decorating boast more than an average gay contingent. To be sure, these activities are generally interpretative, not creative in the primary sense. No matter, as for the latter aspect one need only consult lists of famous homosexuals, featuring such giants as Michelangelo and Whitman, Sappho and Gertrude Stein, Tennessee Williams and Benjamin Britten.

The aesthetic movement of late-nineteenth-century England, the era of Oscar Wilde, marked a special intersection of gays and creativity. Some adepts sported a green carnation for identification.

Wilde’s younger contemporary, the sex researcher Havelock Ellis, regarded the capacity for same-sex feeling as a special gift, akin to perfect pitch. In Ellis's day the term musical was often used as a euphemism for gayness. In other countries, too, male homosexuals are thought to have special sensitivity; hence perhaps the Italian expression arte dei poeti.

Harry Hay, the American gay activist, thought that gay people must cultivate a double vision, a gaze that afforded them both the vantage point of the host society and that of their own subculture. He may have derived this idea from W.E.B. Dubois, who used it to explain the dual consciousness he ascribed to his own group, African Americans. Some educated homosexuals in nineteenth-century Germany spoke idealistically of their own kind as vernünftig, rational. This motif stemmed from the ancient Greeks, who regarded same-sex behavior as uniquely human, in as much as (in their view) it did not exist among animals. In Spanish speaking countries, the verb entender, to understand, is widely used for being aware of gays and their subculture. Participants are called entendidos.

Today gay men are thought to have a special predilection for the musical theater and for opera (opera queens). During the heyday of baroque opera castrati took leading roles. Although born male, they attracted the erotic interest of male operagoers.

In everday life queens have shown much ingenuity in creating new terms and expressions. Many of these inventions do not have staying power--they are nonce expressions--but the almost inexhaustible capacity to create them is ongoing evidence of gay creativity. Not surprisingly, considering the long history of discrimination, some everyday gay creativity is edged with bitterness and personal putdowns. The predilection for CAMP (which see) includes a component of sarcasm sometimes termed bitchiness. Moreover, the uncomplimentary term drama queen refers not to an aficionado of the stage, but to a person who tends to indulge in overemotional “scenes” in daily life.


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