Walt Whitman's
Working Class

Charley Shively, Editor
(Gay Sunshine)
When we were in school, Whitman's affection for working stiffs and soldiers was certainly not discussed openly. This made many of his writings (especially the "Calamus" poems) and his strange vocabulary ("adhesiveness") hard to understand. Only with the opening of America have we had a chance to know that the man whose "Leaves of Grass" stood on so many prim living room coffee tables was not only gay, but proud of it (as proud as one could be in those times) --- and that "Leaves" revealed the extent of those loves.

Shively is a professor at the University of Massachusetts, and draws on his own experiences to illuminate the poetry and life of Whitman:

    For a heterosexual, taking a spouse eliminates a whole series of social problems; for a homosexual, the same act with a person of the same sex...compounds rather than diminishes the difficulties.

Whitman's passions, only thinly veiled, would have gotten him salted away for the rest of his life in his beloved America in the 1990s: Shively points out that the age of consent was ten in most states a hundred years ago, and the ages of many of his lovers would class him as a "child abuser" today. For instance, his diary reports

    Robt Wolf, boy of 10 or 12 rough at the ferry lives cor 4th & Market...Wm Clayton boy 13 or 14 on the cars nights...

The poet was sufficiently protective of himself to be evasive in writing to people he didn't want or trust: "Part of the gay ambiance is to reveal yourself only to potential and desirable partners," says Shively. One of Whitman's letters to Addington Symonds made up a mythical "quadroon" who gave him six illegitimate children. As the editor explains,

    The Englishman never came out openly to Whitman so why should Whitman come out to him?...[furthermore] Whitman may have known of Symonds' using a love-letter to get his Harrow headmaster fired...

There are letters to and from the poet's major lovers (Fred Vaughan, Peter Doyle, Nicholas Palmer, Bill Duckett, and others). There are, too, the aforementioned entries from Whitman's diaries, which, with its list of lovers, the editor compares to those of Roger Casement. He does say, however, that, by the nature of the entries, Casement probably had more scorn, less easy affection for his conquests. As an example, one of Whitman's is reported in his diary as follows:

    James Lennon, age 21 Spanish looking --- I met on the ferry --- night Aug 16 [1879] --- lives toward Cooper's Point --- learning machinists' trade ---- "fond of music, poetry, and flowers..."

"The last phrase sounds like a personal ad from today's gay papers," comments Shively.

This is a fine piece of scholarship, in no way dry and or tediously footnoted, by an editor who obviously cares, and cares greatly, about his subject.

Asia Through
The Back Door
Rick Steves and
John Gottberg
(Muir Publications)
Steves and Gottberg have a breathless, ain't-this-a-lark style which may grate some readers, and certainly makes us suspicious. All their travel adventures flow so sweetly, like "being a big hit:

    Clasp your hands prayer-like, bow slightly, say Sawat Dee Kop and you're an instant hero. Slip your shoes off and join a family cross-legged on a teakfloor. It's "show and tell" and your ziplock baggie full of your hometown postcards and family snapshots is a big hit.

Equally galling is their holier-than-thou speechifying on the evils that American travellers carry about with them:

    Hashish is the preferred poison in India and Nepal. Those who feel a need to indulge will already know to be extremely discreet in asking directions to dealers. We do not ourselves partake.

We prefer the Moon Guides (honest, detailed, direct, worldly) to these Asian Gold Dust twins.

Nobody Wants
A Nuclear War
Judith Vigna
(Concept Books)
Concept Books has children's book titles like Adoption is for Always, Our Teacher's in a Wheelchair, I'm Deaf and It's Okay, and My Mom Can't Read. This particular one is billed as "an important book, needed by our worrying children." Well, can we opt out of this one? How's this for something to curl the baby hair:

    The United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima in Japan...the destruction it caused was more terrible than anyone could have ever imagined.

This, we remind you, is a kid's book. Or:

    A bright white light flashed through the dark. I thought the nuclear war had started. We'd finished our hideaway just in time!

Fine stuff for bedtime reading, guaranteed to give the babes the heebie-jeebies. (Whatever happened to Winnie the Pooh written, by the way, in times of great consternation about end-of-the-world WWI technology?)

Next from these "conscious" children's publishers, we can expect Dad Is A Drug-Runner for the Cartel (But I Still Love Him) and Our Class Visits the Local Abortion Clinic.

My Father,
My Son
Elmo Zumwalt Jr.,
and Elmo Zumwalt III
Who are we --- any of us --- to predict the workings of what they call karma? This is the story of a man who as commander of the naval forces in Vietnam ordered the spraying of 11,000,000 gallons of Agent Orange on that sad land. His son was serving as a boat commander near the Ca Mau Peninsula. Starting in 1983, Zumwalt Junior developed a series of cancers which both he and his father believe to be a direct result of his exposure to Agent Orange.

As we delve into the characters of the two of them as presented (partially presented, really) in this book, we are given a picture of two ramrods. No matter what the agony --- and it is agony, viz;" I coughed up blood of just about every color from cherry red to black. At times, my skin itched so badly that I scratched myself until I bled." Pain is the only constant --- we have a picture of them, and their wives, and sons, and daughters, and brothers, and sisters with Impeccably Stiff Upper Lips.

"I found myself dwelling on dark thoughts more and more," says Zumwalt Jr. "I really had to work on myself mentally to avoid sadness and depression..." Dealing with sadness and depression, no matter what the Positive Thinking folk tell us, is not a matter of "working on the self" in militant aloneness. It runs deeper than that. If it is not resolved, it returns. And returns. And returns.

    Elmo and I know each other so well that I never thought he would hold me responsible, nor did he think I would feel guilty. He made his decision to go to Vietnam, and I made decisions on how to conduct the war based on the best information I had at the time...

says Zumwalt Senior. Everything is so logical, so ramrod straight: no divergence of thought permitted. Be stoic in thought and deed; never waver. And as surely as we are sitting here, shaking our heads over a dual tragedy of people who were born and raised to "soldier," something is missing. Perhaps it is the human capacity to mourn, and mourn deeply, over not just one, but thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who died, who took sick and died, or, worse --- those who took sick and lived.

And not just the rich and famous sons of Admirals, who, after all, are well taken care of by the Veteran's Administration ($100,000,000,000 a year); but some million-and-a-half Vietnamese, who got doused in Agent Orange too, and who are, as of this moment, in equal pain, in some shack of a hospital, in Viet-Nam --- no VA for them.

"No guilt," says Zumwalt, Senior: "I did what I thought best." No guilt. None. How very very strange it all is, and so many suffered for it. Zumwalt's pain, yes --- and the pain of families of so many others, 10,000 miles away.

How to
Beat Burnout
Help for Men and Women
Frank Minirth, et al.
One of the most significant causes of depression is guilt. Those in "burnout" often feel responsible for acts and experiences totally out of their control. A good therapist will strive, through supportive attitude and gentle probing, to weed through the roots of guilt, to help the patient out of it, to assure him or her that guilt is a no-win situation. Imagine, then, you at the end of your rope, you've just bared your soul, and your shrink pauses, and looks at you, and then he says:

    Acknowledge to God that you are a sinner...and that you yourself cannot bridge the gap that your sins have caused between you and God. Realize that Christ's death was the punishment you deserve for your sins...

Yikes! This Minirth is a psychiatrist in Texas. You go in for a consultation and --- as if you didn't have enough problems --- he lays that whopper on you. And then if you chance to say, "I have always felt that I should do what I want to do," he'll say (as he does here) that such desires are "reinforced by Satan."

It's no wonder that the case studies he cites are all of "good Christians" who go under. Not satisfied with this, he is willing to indulge in a little free-booting of the Bible. Responding to the question "Is the sexual part healthy?" he cites the "Song of Solomon" as "the essence of marital romance." God's breath! Not only does "The Song of Solomon" never mention marriage, it is a frank and delicious explication of interracial passion (let old Minirth lay that on his North Texas schizophrenics).

Evidently the publicist for Moody Books wanted desperately to keep all this lunacy under wraps: the poop sheet mailed with How to Beat Burnout doesn't breathe a word of "the punishment you deserve for your sins," or Satan hiding over there under the covers, waiting to pop out and force us all into all sorts of unnatural acts.

--- Lolita Lark

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