A Tradition of Gay Shame: Hart Crane, Thom Gunn, and Richard Siken
Michaud, Tyler Madison
Why do many gay poets often stew in darkness? Gay shame led to Hart Crane’s death (1899-1932). For young Thom Gunn (1929-2004), gay shame played the role of an unwelcome bedmate that would persist well into the poet’s career, breaking into their bedside drawer, snatching up the diary, popping the lock with a bobby pin, and writing passages. The emotional and psychological damage had already been done to Gunn by the time they eventually came to terms with their gayness. Richard Siken (1967-) decided to represent men in love and lust for these portrayals are rare, according to them. While Crush accomplished this, it still posits male-male relationships as flawed, not for something inherently wrong with gayness itself, but because the world actively resists positive portrayals of gayness, even as the author seeks to represent them. Three generations of gay poets run into the same problem: to represent relationships between men as wholly positive.This thesis interrogates claims that we have achieved sexual equality, that we have overcome, and even erased, stigma attached to nonnormative sexuality, and, further and more specifically, that shame can become less disadvantageous if we simply choose to utilize its negative affects as generative modes of being and thinking. Through an analysis of these poets, I argue that gay shame continues to inhibit writing, for as technically impressive and beautiful as this poetry may be, it continues to recycle the following message: male-male relationships are beautiful but fleeting, predisposed to destruction before they can even mature. My hope is to intervene in queer and literary scholarship focused on present and future utopia. These portrayals are romantic and alluring for their call to "move on" from our troubled past, but they breed generations of queer folk too optimistic to be critical.
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