Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Summer 2001

Warren Allen Smith

Gossip from Across the Pond

by Warren Allen Smith

At the annual conference of the Bertrand Russell Society held in May at Canada’s McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, an award was given to Stephen Toulmin, the London-born humanities educator who teaches philosophy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. It is a little-known fact that Lord Russell’s books, desk, spectacles and writing utensils are among the features of the Russell Archives at McMaster, which draws research specialists from around the world.

This year’s discussions critiqued Southampton U’s Roy Monk, whose loathing of Lord Russell in a new second volume of a two-volume biography, Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness, was attacked. Monk stacks the cards against Russell in favor of Russell’s gay one-time student, Ludwig Wittgenstein (whose cruising in Vienna for rough young men was well known in the first half of the past century). Sir Bertrand the outspoken nontheist was generally backed by American reviewers, who complained that Monk as a biographer did not write a balanced assessment of Russell.

Caleb Crain’s American Sympathy: Men, Friendship, and Literature describes how openly homophobic American society has been in the past but reveals how cleverly, nevertheless, love between men was written about. Nontheists or borderline nontheists who were mentioned include Ralph Waldo Emerson (the Unitarian who translated homoerotic poems of the fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz and who had a youthful crush on a fellow student named Martin Gay); Henry David Thoreau (whose journals never mention women and some of whose essays express the beauty and agony of love between men); and Herman Melville (author of Billy Budd, who recognized that male sexual desires are a fact of shipboard life and who had an unusual emotional attachment to Hawthorne).

Orla Brady, a Dublin-bred author who was raised a Catholic but who now considers herself an atheist, has written a powerful movie, A Love Divided, that praises a woman’s indomitable spirit against organized religion.

Brady stars in the movie, which tells about a Protestant who marries a Catholic (Liam Cunningham). When she chooses not to send their children to a Catholic school despite papers they signed upon being married, she is confronted by a Torquemada-like priest (Tony Doyle) who insists that the couple must raise the children as Catholics despite the couple’s companion contract to decide all such matters without any outside interference.

Unable to resolve the problem with her husband and fearing she will lose her children, she flees with them from Fethard-on-Sea to friendly Protestants in Scotland. The bigoted Catholic priest in the little coastal town demands that the children return or the Catholic majority will boycott Protestant businesses, friends turn against friends, and the violence that results affects even the town’s pub owner, a kindly atheist who is depicted as the only sensible person in town. The surprise ending makes the heterosexual couple’s story a metaphor for the larger troubles between the two major theistic groups.

Reportedly, the movie received mixed views in Ireland. In Manhattan, Brady told one reporter that she does not particularly aspire to perfection, that for her very first love scene in a BBC film, “I knew we’d be doing it naked. So I immediately joined a gym, went for two sessions, and bored myself stupid. Real is better – and sexier. Why not just go with that?” (Sure, why not, and thanks for outing yourself as an atheist!)

Breaking yet another taboo, one off-Broadway play depicts a father who is estranged from his son but in one scene sodomizes him. The rape, in Under the Speed of Dreams, is symbolic as well as mysterious in Chilean Martin Balmaceda’s one-act play. A handsome Mexican-American, Miguel Rivera, plays the probably homosexual son. A talented Cuban-American, Jorge Pupo, plays the father who in one scene affectionately kisses his son in this magic realist work about love. It is only in the final minutes that theatergoers learn that the son had died, that the action was a depiction of a grieving father who dreamed of earlier and happy days with his wife and son, who lamented that he had not been close to his son, and who now has become a hopeless souse.

“Wanna eat my banana?” asked the New York humanist Doug Fishbone to surprised Costa Ricans and Poles. Fishbone, a sculptor, arranged for a truckload of bananas to be shipped to the countries’ museums, created a banana sculpture, and at the end of the brief show found that museumgoers were happy to take him up on his offer. Gay friends in Greenwich Village, however, have cautioned him against seeking other places to exhibit, for, enquiring how to extend his project, he has been ingenuously asking experts in the art world, “Show me how to go round the world with this!”

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Created : Sunday, 2001-07-29 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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