Friday, May 20, 2016


LGBTQ between graphic lesbianism and modest gayness


This book is a complicated story that is fictional and yet wants to depict the New York City scene between 1941 (starting before the US entered the war) and 1944 (ending just before D-Day).  What’s more it deals with the show business scene and it mixes real historical characters, hence real names, and some that I consider as fictional, like the Juliana of the title who I assume is white though I base this remark on the cover of the book.

The first element in the book is the impact of the war on the American society. First the at time ferocious patriotism of American men – and women. Men volunteer and enlist in the armed forces if they can or on their side if they can’t do more (age, handicaps, sexual orientation). This patriotism is both complete and never questioned. There is not one character who speaks against it and those who are excluded are vocally protesting against this ban or exclusion they consider unjust. The war also has an important impact on daily life with women having to work in the place of men: with restrictions and food stamps; with the opening of special entertaining centers for GIs with artists, music, dancing and of course drinks and food. Note artists are recruited with rather heavy arguments: patriotism again since they too have to contribute to the effort and to the morale of the troops. There is even a “mission” of artists going to Europe to entertain the troops in England, in Italy where the offensive is already going on and in Northern Africa.

The book is centered on six characters, three women and three men, a star of David or a number of Solomon of sorts. The first couple is Aggie and Dickie. It goes along with a second couple Alice and Danny. They come from some distant suburban or rural area to New York to have a career in showbiz. They are promised to marry one day, the As with the Ds, Anno Domini. They are old friends from high school at least maybe farther back. These four meets a lot of other people in  New York City but two will emerge and they are not a couple though they apparently work together now and then. It is Max and Juliana.

Aggie and Dickie manage to have small parts and jobs in plays and musicals before the beginning of the war for the US and then they go on for a while after the US entered the war. Dickie though is sent to the front in Europe: Italy is the target. He will come back with an abdomen wound and will end up with an artificial colon exhaust bag.  He was a dancer and singer. He will not dance any more. Aggie at the end takes care of him but she had had some dark episode while he was away. She might even be willing to get a divorce and be freed.

Alice and Danny are supposed to get married soon but Alice discovers Danny one morning coming out of Max’s bedroom in the nude. The meaning is simple. Alice rejects Danny immediately and in a very sectarian way. Danny oscillating between depression and other temptations decides to join the armed forces and as such manages to age and to become maybe more mature about his desire, which means maybe accept it, especially since he has fallen in love on the front. Alice and Danny are good friends again at the end. But Alice is one real stake – as  a stubborn black sheep who pretends she is as white as snow, well not exactly but with only one small stain of grey far away from sight – in this book. She has fallen in love with Juliana but she refuses to accept the idea that she is a lesbian.

Max is a character on the NYC stage, stylish, gay with great ideas and projects but his gayness is purely sexual, and I should say even hormonal. Yet he joins the armed forces too out od sheer patriotism and there falls in love with another soldier who is moved back to the US. Censorship discovers in one letter from this other man to Max a phrase that makes the censors think they are dealing with a homosexual couple. So they give the blue sheet to Max: internment for a while in Europe. Repatriation and internment again in the US, finally he is discharged with the blue document that tells he is not desirable. That excludes him from all benefits veterans will get after the war. That prevents him from even saying he is a veteran since it would bring a discharge that is not honorable. In other words he has become an outcast in his own country out of patriotism, and yet with the help of Alice he tries to rebuild his dream with no money and no connections. Or nearly no connections.

That’s were Juliana is important. She is a female Max, in other words a lesbian who is more hormonal than in love with any one. Yet she falls for Alice, though she does not want to say it publicly or out loud. In the same movement, and at the same time Alice has fallen for Juliana though she wants to reduce it to only her which should prove in her mind that she is not a lesbian. Of course that is casuistry, play on words, if not hypocrisy.  The very end brings some kind of restructuring of the six people. Alice tells Aggie about her affection for Juliana. Aggie is shocked and run away. Dickie seems to be on the same line in his handicapped dependency. Danny will remain on the side after his return.

So the six original characters shrink to a group of three, a trinity of sort of unholy people. Gay max, lesbian Juliana and lesbian to become Alice with one project: to build and open a club in New York City, a club for music, performing, and that would be open to all diversity and particularly segregated against minorities like blacks and homosexuals.

That brings the main question in this book. It is openly gay and lesbian oriented. It reveals the bigotry of most Americans in society and in the armed forces in spite of some tolerance for a while in the armed forces, tolerance that is dubious and maybe unbelievable, of the sort Don’t Tell Don’t Ask. That did not last long. The bigotry is depicted in the most crude and brutal terms. Things have not changed a lot since then when we deal with these bigots. Things may have changed legally in this post-propositioon-8 America, but gay-bashing remains a sport for some people. In the 1940s it was both a national and a family sport: bash them all and God will finish the job and send them to hell.

Yet there is here and there a tone that is not the tone of the 1940s. Here and there the book seems to assume the present situation in the 2010s. At the same time the explicit sexual scenes and descriptions on the lesbian side make the book at least erotic and we could consider some chapter are openly pornographic. It is done with some restraint and modesty but the modesty of Greek statues, though on the male side modesty means purely and simply no-mention of graphic detail. At times the bigotry is too blunt to be effective and the regret Aggie expresses at the last minute of her connection to Alice when she recuperates her teddy bear seems to mean that she regrets the fact that Alice told her about her affair with Juliana: it would have been so much simpler if it had not been expressed in words. Hypocrisy is the loincloth of bigotry.

The last element is the families of the characters. They are so obnoxious at times and so rejected all the time that is worthless to speak of it. The families are some caricature of an explanation of the orientation of the children. Too easy, too simple and as usual the mother is the real culprit as if it were necessary. One can be gay without such a psychedelic short-cut. But the book is interesting if you want to understand that modern trend in the whole world: LGBTQ rights and Rainbow Pride.


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