E. M. Forster: A New Life by Wendy Moffat

EMFANLThis is a well-researched book with a detailed bibliography. Forster’s character is filled out as the book progresses. Some thought it a little turgid and stodgy, dry and uninteresting. Though it offered new insights you didn’t get a strong feeling of what he was like.  It’s gossipy in places, which leaves a sour taste.

Moffat’s book is a timely reminder of the struggles that gay men – some remembered like Forster, many forgotten in the tide of civilisation – endured for us who came later, who must be thanked for the liberties we take for granted today.

However, the author focuses on his sexuality rather than is achievement There are so many other dimensions to his life and he was one of the greatest novelists of the early Twentieth Century.

His childhood was stifling, bought up in an all-women household and smothered with rules. As a sort of escape, he had a strong interior life and was reading by age four though never formally taught to do so.

He has an encounter with as paedophile which didn’t seem to do him any harm but which confirmed what he already knew about his sexual orientation.

Then, as now, there were very ‘out’ homosexuals who despised Morgan’s hesitant celibacy, regarding it as cowardice and who were not interested in the aetiology of homosexuality.

He wrote to A J. Ackerley 1,100 times in 50 years.

The author is more sympathetic to Morgan than is Damon Galgut, though the latter has an imaginative telling of his visit to the Barbarar caves compared with Moffat’s dull prose.

Forster was right not to assume that liberal Germany wouldn’t change tack. This should be a warning to all who think ‘things can only get better.’

I was surprised that a doctor blamed prostate trouble on frequent masturbation, though there is some modern research that backs this up – but if masturbation more than once a week by young men increases the likelihood of prostate cancer, it’s a surprise than more men don’t get it – though masturbation is good for the over 50s in this respect..

Reference is made to paintings by Cadmus which scandalised the US navy.

Cadmus The Fleet

Cadmus YMCA

And this painting includes a portrait of Forster:

Paul Cadmus, What I Believe

It’s interesting that so many people from the world of arts and literature knew each other – a small world. He met Edward carpenter, who was a prophetic figure while Forster didn’t have it in him to be such.

I had to look up bies = an evil spirit and bézique = literally “correspondence” or “association”, referring to a card game. Also ‘cleats’=  shoes.


 Within weeks of meeting Morgan, Hugh boldly announced he was an atheist, and proceeded to separate Morgan from the last remnants of his faith. To HOM it was clear that not only was church practice hypocrisy, but the very concept of Christ was humbug. Along with John Maynard Keynes, who would become perhaps the greatest economist of the century, HOM led a public attack under the banner of secularism on the college’s sponsorship of a Christian mission in the slums of East London. Like many undergradu­ate political protests, the atheists’ “sincere and bellicose” display verged on comedy. They sent a representative to present a petition of grievances timed to interrupt prayers at High Table. Just as the provost intoned, “In the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord,” there was a scuffle; the rude emissary was escorted out of the hall, and a don piped up loudly: “Would you mind pass­ing the potatoes?” The renegades won the day; it was decided that college work with the London poor could be done through a secular organization.

Under Hugh Meredith’s influence, Morgan lost his faith “quietly and quickly.”

The idea of a god becoming a man to help man is overwhelming to anyone possessed of a heart. Even at that age I was aware that this world needs help. But I had never much sense of sin, and when I real­ised that the main aim of the Incarnation was not to stop war or pain or poverty, I became less interested and ended by scrapping it.

“saner than anyone else I know … He’s strong because he doesn’t try to be a stiff-lipped stoic like the rest of us, and so he’ll never crack.”

 “When I am 85 how annoyed I am with Society for wasting my time by making homosexuality criminal. The subterfuges, the self-consciousness that might have been avoided.

He was right that the legal changes came painfully slowly. In July 1967, when Morgan was eighty-eight, the Sexual Offenses Act was finally passed. Sex between men who desired each other, were alone in a house, and over twenty-one was legalized—provided that neither of the men was in the armed forces or the merchant navy. And, in a final fillip, the new law applied only to men living in England and Wales.

 ‘He wanted intimacy, love, and domesticity akin to marriage’.

“He delicately ascertained the perfect needful thing, and made it occur with a minimum of fuss.” He had “a gift for friendship”

“began a campaign to have sex of some kind with someone”

For more than fifty years Forster entered political fights from the position of the underdog. Almost every week one could read a pithy and pointed letter to the editor in his inimitable voice. He protested against fascism, against censorship, against communism, against “Jew-Consciousness,” against the British occupation of Egypt and India, against racism and jingoism and anything that smelled of John Bull. Morgan’s public voice wasn’t stentorian. He raised it, tremulously, often alone, against the edifice of conformity. As self-proclaimed gay men, Isherwood and Lehmann adopted the American neologism adopted by the men who resisted police harassment at the Stonewall Inn in Sheridan Square, the men who embraced gay liberation, who eschewed the medical term homosexual, which had marked them for decades as a “species.”

The previous July, just after he arrived at King’s for his residency, Lancaster found himself alone in an octagonal room where a tiny black-and-white television had been installed on a tea cart before the fireplace as a begrudging acknowledgment of the wider world. Next door was the Fellows’ Senior Combination Room, on whose claret-colored walls the portraits of great Kingsmen—all friends of Morgan, all dead—gazed down: Rupert Brooke, a Roger Fry self-portrait, Duncan Grant’s painting of Maynard Keynes. In contrast, the little room had barely enough room for two armchairs and a couple of vitrines stuffed with ancient pottery that flanked the Gothic window. It was a nondescript time in the midmorning, and the BBC was broadcasting coverage of the first moon landing. Decades later, Lancaster still remembered the scene clearly. Morgan “shuffled in, asked me what it was, settled down to watch” on the armchair beside him. He leaned forward conspiratorially toward Mark. “I’m not sure they should be doing that,” he said quietly.

And so, one evening at the studio, after a particularly hectic party, they’d started—and it had been really very funny and not the least disgusting—but quite hopeless. They sat up in bed and laughed and laughed. “Oh Edward!” laughed Margaret—for she was pretty tight, too—“I shall never be able to sleep with a man again. At the critical moment I shall always think of you.” … “I might return the compliment,” said Edward.

“For Isherwood, shepherding Forster’s gay fiction posthumously into print was both a sacred trust and a political adventure. He believed that publication would give Forster a second life as a pioneer of gay writing. Publishing ‘Maurice’ was part of his long campaign to celebrate sexual freedom and repudiate homophobia and hypocrisy.”

“Though he burned great bonfires of ephemera, Morgan carefully preserved the record of his gay life. Thousands of unpublished pages of letters, diaries, essays, and photographs tell the story of the life he hid from public view. Some of the pages are scattered in archives. Some have been coaxed out into the world from remarkable hiding places — a vast oak cupboard in a London sitting room, a shoebox humbly nestled among mouse faeces in a New England barn. Many of Morgan’s surviving friends have told their stories for the first time. Only in 2008 were the final entries in his private diary, restricted from view since his death, opened to readers. All his long life Morgan lived in a world imprisoned by prejudice against homosexuals. He was sixteen when Oscar Wilde was sent to prison, and he died the year after the Stonewall riots.”

“I have plunged into an anxious but very beautiful affair. It seemed to me — and I proved right — that something precious was being offered me and that I was offering something that might be thought precious. . . . I should have been right to take the plunge, because if you pass life by it’s jolly well going to pass you by in the future. If you’re frightened it’s all right — that’s no harm; fear is an emotion. But by some trick of the nerves I happen not to be frightened.”

“Between them, Morgan and May deftly carved out an intimate space for their respective ‘marriages’ to their beloved Bob, with the long weekends for May and the short weekends for Morgan.”

“It was as much psychological as physical. It seemed to go straight through the small of my back into my ideas, without involving my thoughts.”

Like Jane Austen sketching her moral vision on the “little bit of ivory” of provincial domestic life, Morgan discovered the richness and complexity of his entire oeuvre, his whole aesthetic enterprise in a single subject: the search of each person for an honest connection with another human being… He would anchor his plots in the domestic sphere that had been so richly explored by Austen and George Eliot. He would concern himself with their themes: the right choice for a marriage, the tug-of-war between propriety and personal freedom, the moral complexities of an interior life, the pressures of a small community upon an individual’s moral actions.

It emerged that Lawrence’s diagnosis of Morgan’s problem was that he must “satisfy” his “implicit manhood” but “He tries to dodge himself—the sight is painful.” “Why can’t he take a woman and fight clear to his own basic, primal being?” Lawrence lectured Bertrand Russell. Because, he confidently concluded without pausing for an answer, Morgan “sucks his dummy—you know, those child’s comforters—long after his age.” If Morgan would only act, he could become “pregnant with his own soul.” Lawrence told a friend that he found Morgan “very nice.” But he wondered “if the grip has gone out of him.” For his own part, Morgan suspected a different problem in Law­rence’s psyche: suppressed homosexual tendencies.

Even when Morgan had been at Nassenheide, British anxiety about the Hun was palpable. In August 1914 war was declared against Germany. The shadow of war had lingered for so long that “up till the last moment it was impossible to believe that the thing was really going to happen.” The fact of war frayed Morgan’s friendships. Even Malcolm’s wife, Josie Darling, who was dear to his heart, became irritable. Stop dreaming, she told him, enlist in the army, and “face facts.” He gave her a sharp answer. “Don’t say ‘face facts’ to me, Josie. Everybody keeps saying it just now, but the fact is, it’s impossible to face facts. They’re like the walls of a room . . If you face one wall, you must have your back to the other three.”

He confessed to Goldie, “What’s to occupy me for the rest of my life, I can’t conceive.” It was impossible not to comprehend his predicament, and impossible to do anything about it. He told Florence, “I am leading the life of a little girl so long as I am tied to home.”

Policing purity was endless, maddening work. The vast majority of the occupants of Alexandria were beyond their reach, subject by default to the Egyptian Native Penal Code. Under these laws, inherited from the Napo­leonic Code, neither consensual homosexual acts nor male prostitution was illegal. To one administrator charged with developing new “offenses against morality” for a draft penal code, the native population’s blind eye to homo­sexual practices was particularly galling. It was “unthinkable,” he wrote, that young people, “the most precious asset of a State,” should be “exposed to the moral and physical corruption in the toleration of unnatural offenses.” Martial law allowed the British authorities to begin making the crooked straight and the rough places plain.

In his own routine tenderness, Morgan detected a parallel feeling to the love of the men for one another in the muddy trenches. Like them, he found his intimacy disguised by the shape of his duties. Gradually, without senti­mentalism, he came to feel that the greatest story of the war was to be found in compassion. And he heard beneath their words a truer story of gay love and friendship. The small notebook collated fragments, but to him the frag­ments glowed with meaning. Here was the deeper record of the meaning of the war: individual and human, not political. From the verbatim snippets of men in their most extreme trials he gleaned a hidden story that could not be erased. He named this section of the notebook “Friendship.” Under this ti­tle, he collected little tessellated fragments to recover its power

In 1938, Morgan told William Plomer he was “trying to construct a philoso­phy.” It was built out of the bricolage of the “liberalism crumbling beneath him.” Too secular to be a credo, the essay was titled “What I Believe.” It began startlingly.

I do not believe in Belief. But this is an age of faith, and there are so many militant creeds that, in self-defence, one has to formulate a creed of one’s own. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by religious and racial persecution, in a world where ignorance rules, and science, who ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp.

“Truly we live in strange times,” Morgan told him, “and the only thing which is really real in them is love.”

In vain Morgan had tried to counsel Joe against his attraction to venal guardsmen, thieves, and opportunists whom he routinely tried to “rescue”: “Joe—, you must give up looking for gold in coal-mines—it merely prevents you from getting amusement out of a nice piece of coal.”

The social climate, too, had to be cleansed. Sir Theobald Mathews, the new puritanical director of public prosecutions, was appalled by the lax enforcement of the laws against indecent acts. The provinces were holding up their end, but London was a den of vice. Arrests for homosexual acts were duly reported in the newspapers euphemistically as “grave” offenses, “serious” offenses, crimes too horrible to name. But the tabloids echoed the lament of Viscount Samuel in the House of Lords, who decried the “insidi­ous poisoning” of Britain’s “moral state,” complaining that juvenile crime and adultery were rampant, and “the vices of Sodom and Gomorrah, of the Cities of the Plain, appear to be rife among us.” To curb this scourge, police agents provocateurs were sent out to entrap homosexuals through solicita­tion; a special division of the Metropolitan Police was formed solely to patrol public urinals.

The home secretary, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, had prosecuted Nazis at Nuremberg; now he undertook a crackdown on vice. The number of prosecu­tions for homosexual offenses skyrocketed. Even powerful and famous men were paraded as examples in the press—including the recently knighted actor Sir John Gielgud and the Labour MP William Field. In the most sensa­tional case, three prominent men were charged with conspiring to commit indecency: the young peer Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, his second cousin Michael Pitt-Rivers, and Peter Wildeblood, chief diplomatic correspondent for the Daily Mail. The press was tipped and the timing of the arrests was orchestrated by the police so the story could appear prominently on the front pages of the Sunday newspapers. The evidence used to convict the men came from love letters—seized in kit searches of the RAF airmen who were their working-class lovers—and a warrantless search of Wildeblood’s flat.

Newspapers were in a race to outdo one another in salacious reporting, spinning out contradictory stereotypes about sexual criminals with increas­ing certainty and fervor. In May 1952 the Sunday Pictorial devoted a full-page feature to ways to recognize these “Evil Men”; nine years later it helpfully explained “How to Spot a Homo.” Readers could discern a homo­sexual by his sedate tweed jacket, suede shoes, and pipe, or alternately be his telltale effeminate manner and mincing step. These “exposés” reflected the anxieties born of the paradox that homosexuals, forced to live a double life, proved to be quite successful at it.

Popular explanations for the causes of homosexuality, in psychology books and newspapers, sermons and speeches, oscillated between the idea of an alien class of humans, diabolical and separate from normal people, or natural and contagious consequence of men being in each other’s company and kept away from the company of women. War service had brought on an epidemic of this problem. Or excess mother love. Or absent fathers. Morgan sent a copy of a letter he had published asking for “less social stigma” toward homosexuals to Lord Samuel, as a kind of catnip. The viscount took the bait. “Incomprehensible and utterly disgusting as [homosexuality] appears to all normal people,” Lord Samuel replied to Morgan, “it seems to have the ca­pacity to form a habit as potent as alcohol or narcotics.”

The law that had sent Montagu and his friends to prison was the same law under which Oscar Wilde had been convicted in 1895. Goaded by concerns about public indecency on the streets, in 1954 the Home Office appointed a committee of mandarins—clergy and peers and respectable academics—to investigate the twin problems of female prostitution and male homosexual­ity. So it was that Sir John Wolfenden, former headmaster of a public school, now vice chancellor of Reading University, assembled a fifteen-person com­mittee that would bear his name In September 1957 the Wolfenden Report recommended that “homosexual activity between consenting adults over the age of twenty-one in private be no longer a criminal offense.” It took a de­cade more to enact these recommendations into law—and even then the statute was “mild and aetiolated.” It applied only to England and Wales, excepted members of the armed services, set the age of consent for homo­sexuals (at twenty-one) four years above that for heterosexuals, and denoted “private” space very narrowly. (Since anywhere a third person was likely to be present—whether present or not—was defined as public space, even the interior of one’s own home was not always deemed private for the application of the law.) After the Sexual Offenses Act went into effect in 1967, prosecu­tions of homosexual acts soared. The vaunted milestone in homosexual rights was largely symbolic.

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Blue Sky Adam by Anthony McDonald

BSA(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

I read Adam several years ago and enjoyed it so it was good to read the sequel too. I also read his first novel, Orange Bitter, Orange Sweet.

At twenty-two Adam inherits a vineyard in southern France. Leaving old loves and friends behind, he finds himself somewhat isolated. Stephane, Adam’s sexy new neighbour comes to his rescue, and is soon giving Adam much more than advice on managing his vineyard. Then Adam’s teenage lover reappears on the scene.

Each of the central characters in Blue Sky Adam is intricate and plausible. The males are clearly the dominant force – though Stéphane’s sister Françoise is well-drawn and given an intriguing edge.  Each faces personal conflicts BSA 2that echo those of Adam’s: who, and what, does he truly want? (Though to describe this as his ‘Gethsamene moment’ is way over the top.) Though secondary characters, Michael and Sean each develop substantially throughout the narrative with their tentative experiences in relationships highlighting one of the novel’s themes: that sexuality isn’t as black or white as it is often perceived to be, and that this in itself need not be an issue.

I enjoyed reading about regions that I know only as labels on wine bottles.

This book made a few hours go by quickly and it was delightful to read.

The author worked very briefly as a musical instrument maker and as a farm labourer before moving into the theatre.

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Pages Passed from Hand to Hand: The Hidden Tradition of Homosexual Literature in English from 1748 to 1914 ed. David Leavitt & Mark Mitchell

PPFHTH(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The stories are quite bland to start with. Not surprising since they would otherwise be describing criminal acts and be liable to prosecution.

Then, in 1881 comes Teleny, written anonymously but often attributed to Oscar Wilde. This is graphic in the extreme.

The editors should not have allowed a very boring book to be included in full, coming in at 123 pages and out of all proportion to everything else in the book.

The priest and the acolyte, written by a priest, would get even more censure today than it did back in 1894.

Also likely top be more controversial today is a story about a man who sits at the front of church to ogle choirboys. We used to have someone who did that but we thought he came because of our high standard of choral music! However, pedant alert, a procession during Solemn Evensong comes at the end, never at the beginning (p. 346)

Of the perceived danger of these writings: That young men are here and there cursed with these unnatural cravings, no one acquainted with our public school life can deny. It is for such to wrestle with the devil within them; and many a long and agonized struggle is fought, unseen and unknown, within the heart of a young man. A publication of this kind, falling into his hands before the victory is complete, would, unless the poor fellow were of an ex­ceptionally strong nature, utterly ruin him for all eternity.

Of the sort of people who wrote: “The man who achieves complete and satisfyint sexual experience in life is never obsessed with sex to the extent to whim Lawrence was in his writings. Your strong, vital, satisfied male does not rapturously hymn the act of the flesh in his work — very much to the contrary, he is generally very quiet about it. The concupiscent, insatiable Tolstoi preaches austerity and asceticism; it is the Swinburnes and Nietzsches and Lawrences who persistently glorify and magnify the joys they hale never really experienced in all their fullness, if at all.” Cecil Gray, in Musical Chairs (1948)

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Sinister Street – Compton MacKenzie

SS 2(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This book was banned by libraries. The author did not hesitate to explore controversial and topical issues, particularly such themes as homosexuality, infidelity, religion, Scottish nationalism, and espionage activities during World War I. (In his ‘The Four Winds’ Emil Stern is a 16-year-old ‘Jewish beauty’ and intellectual when we first meet him in love with Ogilvie at St Paul’s (St James’s in the novel). Emil will become a fervent Marxist, a British consul in the Levant and successful espionage agent in the war. Later he will suppress his homosexuality by an act of will, marry a humourless Swedish woman, and go to prison in the Twenties for attempting to incite mutiny in His Majesty’s Forces. (Mackenzie himself would be charged under the Official Secrets Act and tried at the Old Bailey after the publication of his own war memoirs.)

It’s a detailed account of a boy growing up in England in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s. It’s pre-great-war England and the Boer war fills the boy’s heart with patriotism and fervour until a beloved uncle dies in the conflict.

We first meet Michael Fane as a small boy, who has just moved from the country to a house in London. His childish delights and concerns are believable and vivid –including the dreadful nanny who told him terrifying stories about what happened to bad boys, stories which he wholeheartedly believes. From childhood, he grows to boyhood–school days, fraught with battle–treats from the tuck shop–his favourite books—his enthusiasms, defeats and triumphs. Along the way, he learns to love his sister, a talented pianist. The first book ends with his entry into university, and his sister’s triumphant debut concert. So many stories, so much matter!

He and his sister Stella were both born out of wedlock, something which was frowned upon at the time, but from rich parents.

The details of childhood and adolescence, the agonies of social embarrassment and the happiness of boyhood adventures–including a beautiful and ethereal first love–are lovingly assembled and examined. England’s green and pleasant land is ever present in the background, with its lush fields, charming water meadows, spinneys and copses–and of course, the seaside, the cliffs and beaches.

The section that reverberated with my experience was a thinly veiled reference to St. Stephen’s Bournemouth. Michael is cycling along the copast and has an invitation to go there. Mackenzie portrays what amounts to a pick-up of the teenager at Solemn Evensong by a slightly older bank-clerk called Prout, closely followed by Michael’s initiation as a processional torch-bearer into the exotic world of the Anglo-Catholic sacristy: “The sacristy was crowded with boys in scarlet cassocks and slippers and zuchettos, quarrelling about their cottas and arguing about their heights. Everybody had a favourite banner which he wanted to escort and, to complicate matters still farther, everybody had a favourite companion by whose side he wished to walk.”

SS 3It is the vision of a whole elaborate social world–now long departed–that I found so fascinating. We encounter both dire cruelties and precious refinements unheard of today. The schoolboys say things like “beastly rotters”, “I say, this is awfully decent!”, “How jolly ripping!”

Max Beerbohm said of it: “There is no book on Oxford like it. It gives you the actual Oxford experience. What Mackenzie has miraculously done is to make you feel what each term was like.”

George Orwell loved it – one explanation, by his biographer Gordon Bowker is “It was not surprising that Sinister Street should so rivet young Eric. Its hero, Michael Fane, is studying Classics at a prep school, and moves with his mother from the countryside to Kensington (close to where Orwell’s Aunt Nellie lived). He spends holidays in Cornwall (as Orwell’s family did), visits Bournemouth (where Orwell’s Uncle Charlie lived), and meets a girl from an Anglo-Indian family whose father is away in Burma. He visits Eastbourne and thinks what a lovely place. (Hollow laughter from Blair and Connolly, no doubt). Fane envies a wild looking unkempt boy he sees wandering down Kensington High Street and longs to be ‘a raggle-taggle wanderer’.”

Literary critic Frank Swinnerton: “It is the picture of the development of a very precocious boy into a sophisticated young man of the nineteen-tens, and the picture is painted with a detail and wealth of reference unattempted by other authors of Mackenzie’s experience. It illustrates most of its author’s gifts, and all his faults. It is lavish, it contains rodomontade, it is literary, sentimental and florid. But it has no timidities; it is large and confident; it is a picture of something more than a single life. It is a record of a departed generation.”

John Betjeman: “This has always seemed to me one of the best novels of the best period in English novel writing.”

Henry James thought it to be the most remarkable book written by a young author in his lifetime.


‘Oxford was divided into Bad Men and Good Eggs. The Bad Men went up to London and womanised – some even of the worst womanised in Oxford’.

‘the great point of Oxford, in fact the whole point of Oxford is that there are no girls’.

How wonderful! The dim Gothic gloom, the sombre hues of stained glass, the incense-wreathed acolytes, the muttering priests, the bedizened banners and altars and images. Ah, elusive and particoloured vision that once was mine.

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Thin Ice by Compton Mackenzie

TI(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

I thought that this was a thinly veiled book about Lord Tom Driberg. However, it was written before a lot of Driberg’s story became widely known so it’s also based on other politicians. By the time he was writing this, the author came to believe that homosexuality was ‘based on wrong choices.’

The author said: I began to study the phenomenon of homosexuality and was amazed to discover that so far from being the sign of a decadent society it was conspicuously prevalent in England during the first quarter of the eighteenth century when the national vigour was at its height. If the penalty of death was no deterrent then, what effective deterrent could the law devise to-day? … One day at my club I heard a top-notch Treasury counsel aver his belief that three-quarters of the male suicides in England were due to blackmail for homosexual offences. I was appalled. Yet I have to confess with shame that I remained silent because I fancied that if I showed too much TI 2interest I should be suspected of habits that exposed me to the possibility of being blackmailed myself.

Once considered a promising politician, Fortescue’s career suffers as his homosexuality becomes known.

The real life labour politician discovered anglo-catholicism and cottaging during the same weekend. He was well-know to the police but the establishment covered everything up so that he never got prosecuted.


‘Perhaps it was strange that George Gaymer should have become a friend of Henry Fortescue at Oxford in the last years of the nineteenth century. Politically they were poles TI 3apart. Henry, already president of the Union, had a brilliant future ahead of him; George was good-hearted but mediocre. Above all, Henry was a homosexual, George was not. Yet George’s loyal friendship stood many test across more than forty years, and was reliable when that of Henry’s own kind proved transitory or even treacherous.’

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The Marrying Kind: Homosexuality and Marriage – Brenda Maddox

TMK(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This book is a study of homosexuality and marriage. This issue has taxed me for some time now as two of my friends are both gay and married.

Given the conservative estimate of the percentage of people who are gay, there must be hundreds of thousands, at least, in Britain who are both gay and married – so it is not an abnormality so much as a common variation amongst patterns of marriage.

The book contains several case studies, sympathetically written up. What emerges is that successful marriages are those where the ‘straight’ partner says something like ‘I have to love that half of my husband/wife because it is part of the whole.’ Marriage is an exploration and such exploring will uncover much – where it is left veiled then there is a break down in trust and communication. If the ‘problem’ is affecting a greater number than most would expect, more needs to be done to make people aware of homosexuality so that they can face up to their own fears. If the commonly held ‘spectrum theory’ i.e. that all of us are somewhere a line between 0- 10 regarding erotic preferences, then this is an issue that affects more marriages even than the hundreds of thousands mentioned.

With gay liberation one might expect gays to marry less often but this is not the case because many want children and a partnership of opposites and many on the continuum find it possible to carry on a furtive gay existence, either with a regular lover ‘on the side’ or, sadly, in odd encounters in public toilets – a sociological study in America (Tearoom Trade) by a clergyman (Laud Humphreys) revealed that the vast majority of people who use toilets for anonymous sex are married men on their way home from work; some research in England suggests that it is the same here. Gay liberation has worked for exclusively gay people – they can settle down with a partner – but it is those whose primary orientation is female who are driven to the use of toilets. Moralising about such behaviour may stir up guilt – the use of toilets is itself guilt-inducing, – but it seems that a more open acceptance that all of us are on a continuum and that homosexuality is no more odd than left-handedness will be needed if people are not to be driven to act in such secretive ways.

Research suggests that there are five types of gays: i) close-coupled, as good as married people of the same gender; ii) open-coupled gays – they maintain a primary relationship with each other which allows each to dabble in other affairs – is this because they are, by nature, unfulfilled by a partner of the same sex and need to seek what is lacking in another partner of the same sex? Is it an honest admitting that men are capable of performing the sexual act in such a way that their bodies are divorced from their emotions and intellects? If so, I think they need ‘liberating’ from that sort of masculinity and to be enabled to discover the feminine that is in them – women rarely play the field sexually in a dispassionate way. iii) single gays who are very promiscuous – they need to fulfil the demands of the libido and, I suspect, kill off the ability to form a secure relationship; many of the more vociferous gay liberationists actually made a virtue, pre-AIDS, of this lifestyle e.g. John Rechy, the U.S. novelist. It was a protest against conventional morality. Such morality doesn’t understand homosexuality but it never will do if it has the evidence of promiscuity. v) those who do not function as homosexual with others, sexually – often sublimating it e.g. the scoutmaster, devoted teacher, vicar &c. These have given an immense amount to society, more than we can ever know, but at what cost to their own developing maturity? Gays from all these groups do marry and do sire children. Many turned to marriage either because they were unaware of their feelings, which I find incredible but have to admit to be true because this book goes into the evidence, or in the hope of a cure – fortunately even the R.C. Church instructs priests NOT to recommend marriage as a cure.

The wife of a gay man has no conventional wisdom to fall back on for support in coming to terms with her situation and she is not very likely to spill the beans to those around her who might be able to support her. Just as most mothers know, intuitively, that their sons are gay, research suggests that many women know, subconsciously that they are marrying a gay man – for fear of sex and the hope that he’ll not be too demanding, as a conquest cf. the ‘fag-hag’ who loves to be in the company of gay men who flatter her but pose no threat sexually.

Lesbian wives are in a different position – many do not discover their orientation until after marriage and the degree of physical intimacy commonly accepted between women makes it harder to draw the line between philial and erotic friendship ­two men hugging each other, apart from on the football field, is so unusual that it becomes obvious what is going on. Lesbian mothers risk the loss of custody of children so often prefer to remain closeted. They also face the ultimate in male chauvinist piggery, the desire of many husbands to watch their wives making love to another woman, making real the fantasies fed by much pornography.

Fears that children will miss out if brought up by a gay parent are based on the mistaken theory that homosexuality is contagious or that it seeks to convert children (paedophiles on the whole are heterosexual) or that the environment will be unhealthy. This book gives much evidence to show that this is not true.

I wonder to what extent the advent opf same- sex marriage will alter things.

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Completing the Course: A Fairy Tale Set in the School of Life – Tom Nussbaum

(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

In October 2013, our group (apart from me hated the author’s ‘The Boy in the Book’.

I was interested enough to get hold of this book, written much earlier. His first novel, in fact.

It deals with the tricky subject of a teacher mentoring as student. Such relationships can be extremely beneficial but society has become ever more suspicious of them, not trusting that people can have a genuine concern and friendship without ulterior motives. As the author points out: Regardless of what anyone assumed, regardless of my label, Steven simply was not my type. Although he was an attractive, enjoyable person, Steven’s unfinished physicality did not arouse me. He was, after all, a teenager.

My motivation was something else: I was responding to Steven’s implied request for me to be available, to listen, and, perhaps, help him sort out some ideas, fears, or feelings, whatever they were.

In its 126 pages, it deals with coming of age, coming out, friendship and facing one’s inner demons.

The story largely comes together around the campaigns for and against Oregon Ballot Measure 9 (1992) which was similar to but worse than Britain’s Section 28 to stop the supposed ‘promotion’ of homosexuality. Campaigners were wanting to have gay teachers sacked, though the actual proposal read, “All governments in Oregon may not use their monies or properties to promote, encourage or facilitate homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism. All levels of government, including public education systems, must assist in setting a standard for Oregon’s youth which recognizes that these behaviors are abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and they are to be discouraged and avoided.” It was defeated in the November 3, 1992, though it dragged on because The Oregon Citizens Alliance went on to introduce a series of watered-down ballot measures along the same lines.

We get the ubiquitous tank top but at least they were fashionable back then (1997).

As with the other book, we get some cheesy phrases:

Steven’s cheekbones glistened from moisture, too. But this sheen was not like that covering his scalp and brow. This wetness reflected a different kind of pain, the pain from within.

And:  Her golden hair fell into a simple pageboy style. She I was attractive in a nonthreatening way. She was like many of the girls I had dated in high school and college a generation before. She was a “safe” date. It was obvious to me why Steven had asked Lisa to the prom. She would not have any sexual expectations of him. Nor would he feel pressure to violate his personal moral code.

Of someone’s accent: His drawl was as comforting as iced tea on a shady verandah in August, and Southern charm oozed from him like nectar dripping from an overripe peach.

And an accurate description of a long day at work: watching the hands of my office wall clock slowly plod onward, like an aimless window-shopper meandering through a mall.

There are too many coincidences in this book. Old enemies become reconciled. All questions, the sort that have puzzled people for a very long time, get answered, just as in The Boy in the Book which my group loathed. However, I think this is a better book than that. I certainly enjoyed it.

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