Fifty-five years ago, I built a house (that is, paid for the building of it) in the northwest corner of Princeton Township, in New Jersey. It was on an unpaved road, running through woods and past an abandoned cornfield that had become a small meadow. My house looks out through trees and down that meadow.
Improbably, I developed a yearning, almost from the get-go, to see a bear someday in the meadow. While I flossed in the morning, looking north through an upstairs bathroom window, I hoped to see a bear come out of the trees. If this seems quixotic, it was. This was four miles from the campus of Princeton University, around which on all sides was what New Yorkers were calling a bedroom community. Deer were present in large familial groups, as they still are in even larger families. They don’t give a damn about much of anything, and when I walk down the driveway in the morning to pick up the newspaper I all but have to push them out of the way. Beforehand, of course, I have been upstairs flossing, looking down the meadow. No bears.
More often than I’d like to admit, something seemingly inconsequential will cause the same feeling to rear its head again. Something as small as accidentally squashing the panettone I was bringing my boyfriend’s family for Christmas can tumble around in my mind for several days, accompanied by occasional voices like “How stupid!” and “You should have known better”. Falling short of a bigger goal, even when I know achieving it would be near-impossible, can temporarily flatten me. When an agent told me that she knew I was going to write a book someday but that the particular idea I’d pitched her didn’t suit the market, I felt deflated in a gut-punching way that went beyond disappointment. The negative drowned out the positive. “You’re never going to write a book,” my internal voice said. “You’re not good enough.” That voice didn’t care that this directly contradicted what the agent actually said.
That’s the thing about perfectionism. It takes no prisoners.
“I understand your frustration,” I replied, “and wish I could help to change the situation.”
I may have been a lowly intern, but it was a feeble reply. And he knew it. “Understanding is not enough,” he said. “You should be doing something to help fix this system.”
The hospital, he lamented, is more like a factory — “it tests every ache and treats every laboratory abnormality, but it does little to heal its patients.” Treating and healing are both necessary, but modern health care too often disregards the latter.
It doesn't seem like anyone remembers Titanic as a great movie, despite the fact that it won 11 goddamned Oscars. Maybe it's because we've decided that anything teen girls like is terrible. Or maybe it's that every line sounds like it was directly copied and pasted from some other period romance movie. But what if there was something much more daring going on under the surface? What if all of that fanfiction positing that Jack was short for "Jacqueline" is in fact onto the real story being told ... or at least the one that James Cameron wanted to tell, but chickened out of at some point? If you think I'm just screwing with you, give me a chance to make my case.
A moan begins in the back of his throat, lower pitched than a whine, higher than a groan, and grows. His head tips back. His eyes close. The moan escapes in a rush of vowels, louder and louder and louder, and now he is howling. It’s the sound he made in his youth whenever he heard a siren passing on the big road at the edge of the neighborhood, but he can’t hear that far any more.
In this wide-ranging study spanning from the Oscar Wilde trials in the 1890s to the gay liberation movement of the late 20th century, Woods demonstrates that this paranoid fantasy of a clandestine queer underground has been a persistent feature of the modern heterosexual imagination. Yet, daring to take it seriously, Woods tells a history of cultural modernity that focuses on interconnected queer cliques and coteries that, taken together, formed the backbone of the modernist movement that revolutionized the visual, literary, and performing arts. Rather than presenting it as an organized conspiracy against hetero hegemony, though, he imagines the 20th-century gay avant-garde as a single transnational network, one with a “consistency of purpose” that “cohere[s] as a single narrative of lives lived against the grain.” Dubbing this the “Homintern,” a play on the “Comintern,” or Communist International organization founded by Vladimir Lenin in 1919, Woods grounds his history in a simple yet subtle claim: that ever since the invention of “homosexuality” as an identity category in the late 19th century, and the simultaneous rise of individuals who began to identify themselves as “homosexuals,” those who desire their own sex have been obliged to keep those desires hidden from public view. This forced them to create clandestine connections for intimacy, support, and comradeship. Yet because of this socially enforced secrecy, many straight people came to see homosexuals as deliberately and inherently disingenuous. They seemed to present a deceptively “normal” public image that masked the perverse pleasures they indulged behind closed doors. Much like the communists with whom they were often associated, the Homintern was believed to have no allegiance to any nation or culture beyond itself, and hence was inherently opposed to the State and to the commonly held values that hold society together. “The willingness of gay men and lesbians to associate across national boundaries throughout the last century,” Woods states, “led to extraordinary encounters, some fleeting, others more enduring; some sexual, some social, many creative.”