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January 05, 2005

Andrew Sullivan: A Rumor Is Enough To Say You're Gay

Andrew had himself a scheduled snit when the New York Times, and other major newspapers, failed to state in Susan Sontag's obituary that she was a lesbian.

Was she? No clue. She had a "long-time relationship" with celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz, but then again, who hasn't?

At any rate, here's Daniel Okrent's defense of the Times' alleged omission:

Spurred by challenges and queries from several readers, I looked into the charge that The Times had willfully suppressed information about Susan Sontag's relationship with Annie Leibovitz.

My inquiry indicates that the subject was in fact discussed before publication of the Sontag obituary, but that The Times could find no authoritative source who could confirm any details of a relationship. According to obituaries editor Chuck Strum, "It might have been helpful if The Times could have found a way to acknowledge the existence of a widespread impression that Susan Sontag and Annie Leibovitz were more than just casual friends.

But absent any clarifying statements from either party over the years, and no such corroboration from people close to her, we felt it was impossible to write anything conclusive about their relationship and remain fair to both of them." Ms. Leibovitz would not discuss the subject with The Times, and Ms. Sontag's son, David Rieff, declined to confirm any details about the relationship.

Some might say that such safely accurate phrases as "Ms. Sontag had a long relationship with Annie Leibovitz" would have sufficed, but I think anything like that would not only bear the unpleasant aroma of euphemism, but would also seem leering or coy.

Additionally, irrespective of the details of this particular situation, it's fair to ask whether intimate information about the private lives of people who wish to keep those lives private is fair game for newspapers. I would personally hope not.

Seems reasonable to me. No one would confirm it, despite the rumors, and, without a confirmation, one could only hint at what one suspected, but could not verify, was true.

Not good enough for Andrew Sullivan, who's just an absolute bear on the subject of protecting sexual privacy, at least when he's not:

The closet remains intact. Privacy? Sontag informed the world about her cancers and even an abortion. And her relationships with several women were not state secrets.

I know a lot of girls who have had sexual relationships with other women, but are basically straight. Should sporadic lesbian encounters be mentioned in their obituaries?

Recall also that Sontag's career took off with her rightly celebrated essay on camp, an essay that she would had a hard time writing without intimate familiarity with gay life and culture.

With all due respect, Andrew, that's evidence she was straight. It tends to be straight urban women who are endlessly fascinated by gay camp culture, not lesbians, who tend to not be so terribly fascinated by it, having their own thing going on. (Yes, Camille Paglia is obviously plenty fascinated.)

The golden rule here is to ask what the NYT would have done if Sontag had lived with a man for a couple of decades on and off, and had written essays on various aspects of sex, love and heterosexuality. Do you think they would have never mentioned her actual love life? Or if she had had serious relationships with a variety of male artists and thinkers, some of whom had influenced her work. Would this be regarded as an invasion of her privacy? The question answers itself.

Um, a better analogy would be about a straight woman had been suspected of having a long-term secret affair with a straight man, which no source would confirm the affair. Would such a suspected, but private and secret, affair be mentioned in an obituary, depsite all parties apparently wanting to keep it hush-hush and without any real evidence whatsoever to substantiate it?

In an obituary?

And what the hell does her book on gay male camp have to do with any of this?

And, by the way, Annie Liebovitz is still alive, and would seem to prefer keeping her sexual privacy.

It seems that, according to Andrew Sullivan, if you obtain prominence, a full record of any homosexual experiences you might have had should be run in your obituary, sources or no sources.

Because, you know, sexual privacy is sacrosanct. Except when stripping it away helps to advance a poltical goal that Andrew Sullivan favors.

The goal here? No idea, except maybe to say "We're here, we're queer, we wrote frequently for the New York Review of Books."


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posted by Ace at 03:16 AM

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