Can you imagine what it would have
meant to a gay kid with writing ambitions to have known that Susan
Sontag was a lesbian? My anger over our inflicted secrecy has no
bounds. I didn't know, could only suspect, given the society we live
in, that a person like Susan Sontag might be gay. Ms. Sontag had no
expectation of making her proclivities known, probably couldn't
fathom that possibility and, given the negative attitudes toward
homosexuality when she first became a lover of women, why would she
want to? Could she have achieved the intellectual stature she did if
her orientation had been known?
I think of Ellen Degeneres and Rosie
O'Donnell dancing with glee before hundreds of thousands of viewers,
out as out can be, their comedy in full flower, riches piling up
around them, respect and adulation surrounding them. But more, I
think of the young dykes they have freed by being out, the permission
they have given, by being their full selves, for all gay people to be
As accomplished and influential as
Susan Sontag, thinker, writer, human rights activist, was, I am
saddened that she was silenced by a gay-hating culture. I wonder if
her path would have been easier, her steps along it lighter, had she
been born in the decades of the liberation movements, as Degeneres
was. I wonder if we would have had those movements without her
liberal insights expanding world culture. I wonder if it took hiding
her private self to set the rest of us free?
As free as we can be as the year 2009
lumbers through its infancy. Israel is in Gaza, rooting out its
oppressors. The vote that ended gay marriage is being challenged in
California (thank goodness Del Martin lived long enough to marry
Phyllis Lyon). Caroline Kennedy may, if she becomes a New York State
senator, continue her family's broadminded dominion. As free as we
can be at a time when a gay pride sticker on a car incites four males
to attack a lesbian in the San Francisco Bay area or when two
transgendered people are shot in Memphis, Tennessee.
I am so angry at a society that forced
my unknown gay ancestors into closets. What a tragic waste of energy
that any gay aunt had to spend even a moment of her time pretending
to be straight – what's so incredibly great about being straight?
What a horrifying waste of intelligence: inventing secrets in order
to hide and, as a result, denying generations of gays our heritage.
We are a strong people: talented at
survival; clever at making up lies; geniuses of disguise. If, ages
ago, we could have combined the intellect of Sontag with the comedic
joy of Degeneres and O'Donnell, we'd no longer be squandering energy
climbing Sisyphean mountains of law to win birthrights assumed by
non-gay North Americans.
Regardless, we have made great
progress. That we can even be thinking of same gender marriage
boggles my mind. Yet, as reported at On Top Magazine, strong
forces want to take it all away: last month "… the Vatican
said it opposed a United Nations resolution calling for the universal
decriminalization of being gay. They said they feared it would lead
to gay marriage … Sixty-six nations have signed on to the
non-binding statement; not among them is the U.S."
The Vatican is not exactly a relevant
institution for me, but it makes the rules for one of the largest
religions on earth. The thinking it represents leads to exactly the
emotionally tortured kind of lesbian relationships we can read about
in Susan Sontag's newly published journals (Reborn: Journals and
Notebooks, 1947-1963, Susan Sontag, Farrar, Straus & Giroux).
Those relationships should be a thing of the past. Gays now should
have a decent shot at healthy unions.
In my early years, the dominant culture
taught me, all gays, to hide everything real about ourselves. Telling
the truth was not an option; we had a heavy habit of dishonesty. Lies
flew to my lips sooner than truth. I never knew what harm I was doing
to others as well as to myself. Later we rebelled not just against
the world that sought to repress us, but against our own disease of
internalized homophobia. We were able to see the value of our
humanity. When Ms. Sontag came out, how could she imagine that
disclosing her sexual preference could have had as powerful and
positive an effect as her mind?
Ah, Susan, thank you for your journals,
for telling us your secrets. You demonstrate with your words how
right they were to muzzle us. Openness is the gay world's most
powerful tool for change. Your silence may have protected you, but
revealing your lesbian self protects those who follow you.
[Editor's Note: Lee Lynch is the author
of over 12 books. Her latest, Sweet Creek, is a bittersweet
love story. You can reach Lynch at LeeLynch@ontopmag.com]
Copyright Lee Lynch 2009