Today is Alan Turing’s one-hundredth birthday. Alan Turing contributed to the Allies winning World War II by breaking the Enigma codes that Germany used to communicate with its submarines. He had a large hand in inventing the computer that we use today and that today Google is celebrating by the publication of a “doodle,” which you must have already seen because it’s everywhere on the web today. And Turing is an original gay martyr to bigotry and anticipated gay liberation by decades. He died June 7, 1954, the apparent victim of a suicide after appalling treatment by the British Government for acknowledging his homosexuality. A biography about him, Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, was published in 1983, and last month was brought out again (It is also available as an ebook for Kindles). There was also a Broadway play. Google “Alan Turing”, and today see his name on the Google News page, under Technology or Google “Alan Turing Google Doodle.”
Paul Mariani published The Broken Tower in 1999, a biography of Hart Crane, out of which James Franco made a movie in 2011. Hart Crane was another major gay figure who committed suicide (April 27, 1932). Franco seems to have made it an artistic cause to retrieve into the cinematic canon documents from the gay past. He brought out HOWL in 2010, a movie about Allen Ginsberg’s first public reading of his poem.
The point here is the books about these men—The Enigma, The Broken Tower. There has been, in the years since Stonewall, a great interest in the lives of gay men and women in the past, and that interest has resulted in a flourishing of biographies and histories.
The great histories—Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Europe, from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century, by John Boswell, is one of the first great works of scholarship on our community. Hundreds of others have followed, notably Stonewall by David Carter, on the riots themselves. There have been the histories of gay New York that preceded the Stonewall Riots, principally Gay New York, 1890-1940, by George Chauncey, and The Gay Metropolis, 1940-1996, by Charles Kaiser, and scores more.
All these books pose the question,Who were the people who went before us? And what did they do? It is one of the strongest aspects in gay liberation, whose anniversary we are approaching next Friday and Saturday, June 27 and 28, 2012, which is the forty-third anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
This week I have re-read Ceremonies, about events in Maine during the summer of 1984 when Charles Howard was murdered and have been reminded of one of my goals when writing that book: What was it like to be gay in Maine in 1984?
We have inherited the world bequeathed to us by Alan Turing and Hart Crane and the men and women of the Stonewall Riots and the men and women of the summer of 1984 in Bangor. Put another way, we live in a world they made. And to know who we are, we learn who they were and why they created the world they made.