Casual Outings

The current issue of The G&LR (The Gay & Lesbian Review) — volume 28, number 2, March-April 2021 — is in fact the 150th issue of the magazine, and comes as a book, Casual Outings (plus a minimal, 15-page, supplement of book reviews, without any of the customary articles). The front cover:

(#1) (from p. 64) [The illustrator Hefling] is now a retired professor, having taught theology, philosophy, and Great Books at Boston College for thirty years. Besides drawing and (digital) painting, his artistic pursuits include calligraphy and manuscript illumination.

And the back cover (which identifies the illustrations on the two covers — but the identifications have David Wojnarowicz and Yukio Mishima reversed):

(#2) The editor of this book, Richard Schneider Jr., is also the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine. And here Schneider is with his letter announcing the 150th-anniversary book:

The next issue of The G&LR is not a magazine but instead a special book titled Casual Outings, which is offered to commemorate our 150th Issue. The book brings to fruition something I’ve wanted to publish for a long time: a collection of illustrations by our brilliant contributing artist, Charles Hefling, who’s been dazzling us with his caricatures and portraits for most of our 27+ years.

In that time, Charles has produced over 300 illustrations for the magazine, of which only ten percent or so appear in the book. These were drawn from what Charles calls his “A List,” [of composers, artists, and writers from the high-art end of the scale, rather than the popular-art end; so no pop singer George Michael or gay pornstar Colby Keller, though both have been the subjects of articles in The G&LR] and they have something else in common: They were all artists and writers who were not entirely forthcoming about their sexuality, usually because their society forced them into the closet. Thus we are “outing” them in a sense, but in a gentle way, since the secret is long out of the bag. Hence the title: Casual Outings. [And they have something else in common: they are no longer alive, so that they all lived in hard times for lgbt people. Even Wojnarowicz, who was born in 1954, came of age in the hard times. As did I, born in 1940.]

The 27 illustrations – which range chronologically from Michelangelo to Lorraine Hansberry – have been divided into five groups: novelists, artists, dramatists, composers, and poets. Opposite each Hefling is a short introduction to the person pictured as excerpted from a past issue of The G&LR by writers such as Edmund White, Diana Souhami, Martin Duberman, and Andrew Holleran. The focus is on the LGBT side of their life and work, and how they negotiated their sexuality in a hetero-normative world.

Oh, hard times, come again no more. Several of the brief life stories are heart-breaking. John Cheever’s I already knew, at least in outline (Casual Outings has a brief version by Raymond-Jean Frontain on p. 18): a man with a high sex drive and intense sexual desire for other men, but so crippled by anxieties over his homosexuality (anxieties that “had become deeply rooted during adolescence”) that “he seems not to have progressed much beyond mutual masturbation” (apparently mostly in secret but technically public places), plus being fellated (“Fellatio is the nicest thing one human being can do for another” he said to a shocked college class in 1973; we don’t know whether he ever returned the favor).

Grant Wood I knew about almost entirely through his often-parodied painting American Gothic. Here’s more from Casual Outings: Hefling’s caricature, Alfred Lees’s text:



Wood was an exponent of both American Regionalism (though he had no affection for farms or farming) and Magic Realism (an artistic commitment shared with a number of gay artists). (I am something of a fan of Magic Realism, so it was a pleasure to discover these works of Wood’s.)

— American Regionalism, from Wikipedia:

American Regionalism is an American realist modern art movement that included paintings, murals, lithographs, and illustrations depicting realistic scenes of rural and small-town America primarily in the Midwest. It arose in the 1930s as a response to the Great Depression, and ended in the 1940s due to the end of World War II and a lack of development within the movement. It reached its height of popularity from 1930 to 1935, as it was widely appreciated for its reassuring images of the American heartland during the Great Depression. Despite major stylistic differences between specific artists, Regionalist art in general was in a relatively conservative and traditionalist style that appealed to popular American sensibilities, while strictly opposing the perceived domination of French art.

… American Regionalism is best known through its “Regionalist Triumvirate” consisting of the three most highly respected artists of America’s Great Depression era: Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and John Steuart Curry. All three studied art in Paris, but devoted their lives to creating a truly American form of art. They believed that the solution to urban problems in American life and the Great Depression was for the United States to return to its rural, agricultural roots.

— from my 3/28/11 posting “Magic realism”, on:

magic realism in visual art — the use of fantastical or surreal elements to depict realistic scenes … I came across it first in the work of American painter Jack Frankfurter, though Edward Hopper is a much more familiar artist in this vein, and Paul Cadmus also fits to some extent.

(A series of further postings followed. Gay artists have been especially drawn to magic realism, with the result that magic realism seems to be disproportionately heavy with gay artists.)

It was often assumed that Wood was homosexual by inclination, but (of course, at the time) closeted; in fact, he had to fend off charges of homosexuality in order to save his position at the University of Iowa. I have seen no direct evidence, however, that he had sexual relations with other men; the record of his life reads, sadly, like a story of very strong, but repressed, desire.

Stone City, Iowa. A work representative of both American Regionalism (in its subject) and (with its strange lighting and simplified forms) Magic Realism. And, if Evans and Lees are to be believed, of a landscape that is not merely full of allusions to bodily forms, but alludes specifically to male bodies, even to male genitals:


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