Responses to Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band

− The Discourses of Minoritizing and Universalizing Views

Atsushi Fujita

 The Boys in the Band opened on April 14, 1968 at an off-Broadway theater, Theatre Four, and played over 1,000 performances before it closed on September 6, 1970. The production was hugely successful and drew much attention from various media as the first candid gay play. The play was so appealing that a film version with the original off-Broadway cast was made in 1970. During the theatrical run of the off-Broadway production, on June 28, 1969, a historical event for gay liberation started at a gay bar called Stonewall Inn. Though it should not be neglected that there had been gay movements before this, the uprising visualized gay liberation and intensified the anger of gay people.
 The Boys in the Band gathered the criticism that there was too much self-hatred in the depiction of gay characters. William M. Hoffman, a playwright, notes, however, "Whatever one thinks of it, The Boys in the Band, more than any other single play, publicized homosexuals as a minority group" (xxvii). John M. Clum argues that the play is a "bellwether" because it is the first commercially successful gay drama; finding a way to depict a more positive gay self is a task of the following generation" (207). It seems that current evaluations of this play can be summed up by Hoffman's and Clum's views.
 This paper will look at the period before the formation of these evaluations of the play, showing how the mainstream media and the gay media responded to the play, and pointing out the difference between them. It is in those discourses that the responses to the play show important elements in terms of analyses of homophobia. Since the discourse around this epic play cannot be analyzed without knowing the context of the time, I will introduce historical background with particular reference to responses to Stonewall from both the mainstream and the gay media. The text of the play will also be analyzed closely. This paper will adopt a form of queer reading of the reception of the play as well as of the play script. This queer reading, in which texts are read in detail from the perspective of the oppressed people, will find out things hidden between lines by the homophobic power structure and expose how heterosexism concealed them. Eve K. Sedgwick's notion of minoritizing and universalizing views will be applied in order to look into what had been oppressed and concealed in those texts. Both the gay and the mainstream media use two views in different ways. Compared to responses from the gay media and the play text, responses from the popular media were homophobic, though they tried to show their tolerant understanding of homosexuality.
 The reviews used here are mainly of the original production of the play. However, reviews of other productions and the film version of the play will also be used because it is important to view a decade of responses before and after Stonewall.

Responses to Stonewall
 Stonewall is one of the most important events in gay liberation history. The gay liberation movement before Stonewall was "heartbreaking slow and arduous work" and the uprising expanded the gay movement through the formation of activist groups like the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance (Dynes 1251-1254). Martin Duberman, a gay historian, says in his Stonewall:

The 1969 riots are now generally taken to mark the birth of the modern gay and lesbian political movement−that moment in time when gays and lesbians recognized all at once their mistreatment and their solidarity. As such, "Stonewall" has become an empowering symbol of global proportions. (xvii)

 However, responses from the media to this historical event were not so enthusiastic then, as Edmund White, one of the most prominent gay novelists, describes in his novel. The following is a scene on the morning after a nameless protagonist and his boyfriend joined the uprising:

[W]e were too excited to sleep. We rushed down to buy the morning papers to see how the Stonewall Uprising had been described. "It's really our Bastille Day," Lou said. But we couldn't find a single mention in the press of the turning point of our lives. (White 146-153)

The character's disappointment seems justified as the media's response to the event was not enthusiastic at all. For example, The New York Times reported the riot in a small article without pictures on June 29 (33) and 30, 1969 (22). The articles only said that there had been a raid around Sheridan Square, and that the Stonewall Inn, where the uprising started, seemed to have been a place with a lot of homosexuals. Though one of the articles mentioned graffiti on the upper windows in the bar saying "Support gay power," it did not report the event in the context of gay liberation ("Police" 22).
 On the other hand, one of the most popular and oldest gay magazines, The Advocate, reported it in its September 1969 issue with a cover that announced "FIRST GAY RIOTS." There were two articles inside. One looks at responses from the popular papers and comments on the riot in terms of a gay liberation movement. It introduces the Mattachine Society, one of the oldest organizations for gay and lesbian rights, which worked to gain support after Stonewall. The article also problematizes what a police officer said during the raid: "I like nigger riots better because there's more action, but you can't beat up a fairy. They ain't mean like blacks; they are sick. But you can't hit a sick man" (Lige and Jack12). This quotation is particularly important because before Stonewall the homophile movements' aim had been assimilation with the majority, insisting on gay people's unchangeable sexual orientation. During Stonewall, they shouted "Gay is good," and rejected the former tactics that had admitted the sickness of homosexuality.
 The other article covers three pages and shows how the riot happened in detail. It introduces episodes from the event: a middle aged female tourist with her husband joined the raid and told a police officer that he should be ashamed of himself because he tried to rob homosexuals of the only place for them to go; police officers dragged a boy who did nothing out of a car and pounded him (Leitsch 3+). Of course, the articles are written from gay people's point of view, showing the feeling of gay people who had been encouraged by the first gay riot. Stonewall was reported in The Advocate with a celebratory tone, while it was devalued, rendered as a small matter with no political significance in The New York Times.

Minoritizing and universalizing
 In her Epistemology of the Closet, Sedgwick presents her notions of minoritizing and universalizing views, after pointing out "the contradiction between seeing homo/ heterosexual definition," which is, "both heterosexist and antihomophobic" (1). She defines minoritizing as "seeing homo/ heterosexual definition . . . as an issue of active importance primarily for a small, distinct, relatively fixed homosexual minority" and universalizing as "seeing it . . . as an issue of continuing, determinative importance in the lives of people across the spectrum of sexualities" (1; ellipses added). She explains why she uses these terms in her book:

The book will not suggest (nor do I believe there currently exists) any standpoint of thought from which the rival claims of these minoritizing and universalizing understandings of sexual definition could be decisively arbitrated as to their "truth." Instead, the performative effects of the self-contradictory discursive field of force created by their overlap will be my subject. And, of course, it makes every difference that these impactions of homo/ heterosexual definition took place in a setting, not of spacious emotional or analytic impartiality, but rather of urgent homophobic pressure to devaluate one of the two nominally symmetrical forms of choice. (9)

It is not important for her to confirm the distinction between minoritizing and universalizing views. Both views work in complicated ways and produce performative power; this power is produced mainly under the homophobic pressure that tries to devalue homosexual definition. These two views have formed various discourses to oppress and sometimes to protect homosexuals. Using these views enables us to uncover homophobia in various discourses, even though those discourses seem to have nothing homophobic at all. Her method of analysis is useful in investigating the discourses around The Boys in the Band, too. Indeed, using these notions, I will analyze how oppressively homophobic the responses from heterosexual media were, even though they pretended to show an understanding of homosexuals.1 Her notions will also be applied to the responses from gay media and to the play text itself.

Analysis of the play text
 Critics have focused on minoritizing views of the text of this play and they have often criticized them because these views have enhanced a stereotypical image of homosexuals; self-loathing, camp behavior, and dialogue filled with four-letter words have been common targets.2 However, as Sedgwick notes, universalizing and minoritizing views are so complicated and intertwined that it is impossible to decide whether the play works in an exclusively universalizing or minoritizing way. Actually, The Boys in the Band has several minoritizing views, and at the same time, it also has universalizing views, both of which work to liberate homosexuals as well as to oppress them by suggesting stereotypical images.
 In the play, Michael's gay friends come to his apartment to hold a birthday party for Harold. First to arrive is Donald, one of the closest friends of Michael, and they talk about their counselor. They are both taking counseling to fight against self-hatred for their homosexuality. Michael says in the last scene of the play, "If we could just learn not to hate ourselves quite so very much" (128; original emphasis). The other friends arrive one after another with presents for Harold in their hands. Emory, the most flamboyant character with camp words and gestures, gives a "cowboy," a male prostitute, who also joins the party. Besides eight gay men, there is one more unexpected guest, Alan, who is a straight friend of Michael. At the end of the party, Michael starts a game called "The Affairs of Heart," in which they make phone calls to someone and confess their love.
 Among Michael's friends gathering at the party, Larry and Hank are a couple. They argue about Larry's promiscuity, which emphasizes a stereotype of gay people. It is exposed that Larry and Donald met at a bathhouse, a place where gay people gather to meet someone and to have sex, and slept together without even revealing their names to each other. Larry's relationship with Hank is now in a stable condition, but Larry does not want to commit himself to it exclusively. He declares, "It's my right to lead my sex life without answering to anybody . . . . Numerous relations is a part of the way I am" (111; ellipses added). He also insists:

I can't take all that let's-be-faithful-and-never-look-at-another-person routine. It just doesn't work. If you want to promise that, fine. Then do it and stick to it. But if you have to promise it−as far as I'm concerned−nothing finishes a relationship faster. (112; original emphasis)

It is a typical accusation for homophobes to say that gay people have numerous sexual relationships as in a criticism on the AIDS epidemic in 1980s and 90s, such as, "AIDS is a divine punishment for promiscuity of gay people." This depiction of Larry minoritizes gay people and attracts criticism of the play.
 On the other hand, this couple also suggests a universalizing view. As Vito Russo observes, Larry and Hank's relationship gives an example of a happy gay couple, though critics often ignore it (174-178). Hank was married and has a son and a daughter. As this fact makes Alan (Michael's straight friend who happens to come to the party without knowing what is going on) believe that Hank should not be homosexual, some audience members may be surprised to know here is a person who chose to lead a homosexual life though he can have a relationship with women. Although the couple has a problem with Larry's polygamous relationship, they confess their love to each other and agree to try to fill the gap in the game Michael started.
 Emory is the most stereotypically flamboyant gay figure in the play, and Alan berates him as such: "Faggot, fairy, pansy . . . queer, cocksucker! I'll kill you, you goddamn little mincing swish! You goddamn freak!" and hits Emory (58; original ellipses). Though Michael asked his friends not to let Alan know they were gay, Emory does not hide his gayness after Alan enters, telling camp jokes; for example, he repeatedly uses female pronouns for men. While camp jokes and four-letter words in the play make the audience laugh, they minoritize gay people, which has also been a target of criticism.
 At the end of the play, however, when everybody is leaving the place, Emory and Alan reconcile with each other. When Michael tries to force Alan to join his game, Emory tells Alan not to because it is humiliating. Alan finds Emory kind and says, "Emory . . . I'm sorry what I did before" and Emory replies, ". . . Oh, forget it" (118; original ellipses). This reconciliation between the most obviously oppositional figures in the play − the most heterosexual, Alan, and the most typically camp queen, Emory − suggests a universalizing view. At least superficially or temporarily, Alan's homophobia seems to disappear.
 Alan appears as the only straight character in the play. Though Michael emphasizes his heterosexuality at the beginning, the depiction of Alan's sexuality becomes more and more obscure. This ambivalence also shows both minoritizing and universalizing views. Though the text of the play does not confirm whether he is actually straight or not, it is only he that can suggest a heterosexual point of view that most of an audience can sympathize with. As quoted earlier, his homophobia is shown when he lambastes Emory's effeminate behavior. When they are alone, Alan warns Michael: "He [Emory] probably wanted to dance with you" (51; original emphases). He makes a border between the normal heterosexual world and the weird homosexual one clear and minoritizes gay people by winning Michael to his side. He is practically saying, "We are different from that queer and we have to protect ourselves." When he cannot get consent from Michael, he changes the strategy to another, typically homophobic one: the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy in the American Army of the Clinton administration. In short, the policy makes it possible for gay people to stay in the army only if they do not come out of the closet, suggesting that sexuality does not have to be exposed in public because it is a private matter. Actually, sexuality is not private, especially for the oppressed gay people, for whom it has always been political. If the issue of homosexuality is shut into private areas, there is no progress for gay liberation. Alan says, "your private life is your own affair. . . . I couldn't care less what people do−as long as they don't do it in public−or−try to force their ways on the whole damned world" (51; original ellipses). As Alan says to Michael, "That Hank is an attractive fellow," he has a good impression of Hank and enjoys talking with him (50). When he finds that Hank left his wife and children for Larry, however, he says to Hank, "I'm really not interested in hearing about it," and again, "I don't want to hear it. It's disgusting!" (109). More importantly, he finally goes back to the heterosexual world after telling of his love to his wife on the phone in the game. This makes Michael feel guiltier about his sexuality and shows a dichotomy of homo/ heterosexual clearly.
 However, the depiction of Alan shows a universalizing view, too, for the text of the play does not establish his sexuality clearly. He happens to join the party because he needs to talk with Michael about something serious. He calls Michael, crying, and intrudes himself, though Michael does not want him to come to see his gay friends. He does not leave the party of gay people even though he has many chances to do so. On entering Michael's apartment, Alan says that he really cannot stay long, embarrassed with the unexpected atmosphere of the party (40). After a while, he says again that he will just finish a drink and leave (47), and later, he even says goodbye to Michael and Hank (57). In "The Affairs of the Heart" game, Michael reveals that Justin Stewart, one of their college friends, had said that he had slept with Alan. The relationship between Alan and Justin is similar to the one between Brick and Skipper in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. According to Michael, Alan was obsessed with Justin and talked about and admired him all the time. As with Brick in the Williams' play, Alan says that they were very good friends and that was all. He denies his homosexual relationship, saying that Justin asked him to be his lover and he declined. Alan insists:

He could never get over the fact that I dropped him. But I had to. I had to because . . . he told me . . . he told me about himself . . . he told me that he wanted to be my lover. And I . . . I . . . told him . . . he made me sick . . . I told him I pitied him. (122; original emphases and ellipses)

Michael claims that Alan just could not face his own gayness and tells him to call Justin in order to confess his love and make an apology.
 Although it is not an aim of this paper to judge Alan's sexuality, it is useful to point out the ambivalent depiction of it to show a universalizing view of gay people in this play. After the others leave, Donald and Michael discuss the matter:

DONALD. Why do you think he stayed, Michael? Why do you think he took all of that from you?
MICHAEL. There are no accidents. He was begging to get killed. He was dying for somebody to let him have it and he got what he wanted.
DONALD. He could have been telling the truth−Justin could have lied.
MICHAEL. Who knows? (130)

Donald is the most caring friend of Michael and he always stays calm in the play; he does not play camp nor join the game to show his emotion. His point of view is the most objective among the characters. On behalf of the audience or readers, he asks Michael about Alan. Michael answers that Alan needed to confront something real deep in his heart. Though he does not give an answer to whether he thinks Alan told the truth, he at least implies that the trouble, which Alan had to face with Michael's help by staying at the party, had something to do with homosexuality. In the very last scene, they discuss it again:

DONALD. Did he ever tell you why he was crying on the phone − what it was he had to tell you?
MICHAEL. No. It must have been that he'd left Fran. Or maybe it was something else and he changed his mind.
DONALD. Maybe so. [A beat] I wonder why he left her. [a pause]
MICHAEL. . . . As my father said to me when he died in my arms, "I don't understand any of it. I never did." (131; original ellipsis)

 Seeing Alan's trouble with his homophobia and marriage, Michael finds that the chasm between heterosexuality and homosexuality, which he has thought too wide to bridge, is not that wide. He says his dying father told him that marriage was a complete mystery. Michael has long been in trouble with his gay identity, which comes from his being outside the "normal world" of heterosexuality. Now that he sees the troubled aspect of heterosexuality in Alan, his self-hatred is diminished. This depiction of Alan is universalizing because he has troubles like other gay characters; though he looks like a straight and believes that he is, he has trouble with homosexuality. The harder he tries to show his aversion to homosexuality, the more ambivalent his sexuality becomes. He finds that the straight world he lives in is actually a homosocial world.3 His homophobia prevents him from facing it.
 Though this text has long been a target of criticism for giving stereotypical images of gay people, there are actually numerous liberating elements which universalize homosexuality. Considering the historical context before Stonewall, Crowley was brave enough to present his political message for gay liberation by suggesting the self-hatred of gay characters through minoritizing and universalizing views.

Responses from the gay media−The Advocate
 To examine responses from the gay media, The Advocate, a gay magazine, provides a good source, because there was only limited information for gay people then and the magazine was one of the most popular sources. The Advocate has been published since 1967 and it had only about 15 pages at that time. It was called The Los Angeles Advocate in the beginning. They sold a copy at 35 cents. In order to review the response to The Boys in the Band, notable articles will be looked at in chronological order.
 An article about the play first appeared in the magazine in the August 1968 issue, four months after the opening. The article is an editorial and it is not excited about the epic play's success; it comments on responses from critics who gave rave reviews to the play. Part of the reason for this coolness is that this magazine was published in Los Angeles and mainly circulated around there then. The article says that though critics give favorable comments about the play depicting the "true world of the homosexual," they mean the world is necessarily sad, tragic, miserable, or unhappy:

[B]y what stretch of dongnobbular logic do they say that our world is all misery just because we have one trait that they regard as a problem or, worse yet, an evil: homosexuality. Come on now, straights, let's try to be reasonable. Let's not be so stupid as to genderalize a group as the homosexuals. ("Happiness" 12)

The editorial sneers at heterosexual critics who sympathize with the situation around gay people and says that there is not such a big difference between gays and straights as they imagine. This universalizing view resists the heterosexual discourse that tries to minoritize homosexuals.
 In the February 1969 issue, there appears an article about Crowley's success and an introduction to the play. Similar to the articles in the heterosexual media, it says that The Boys in the Band is a homosexual play, not a play about homosexuality. Without any critical comment, it also quotes a critic's universalizing comment that the play provides the most frank depiction of homosexuals ever (3).
 In the April 1969 issue, Jay Ross reviews the play under the title, "Bitchy, Biting, Hilarious!" As the title shows, it basically approves of the production and the playwright, saying, "the dialogue is authentic, with many lines I wish I had thought of first" (Ross 5). The political position of the reviewer is neutral and he does not give a view that is universalizing or minoritizing. There is also a review by Mel Holt in this issue. He says that the play forces reality upon gay people, pointing out the situation around them: "If the homosexual is prone to self-destruction as some people believe, then doesn't society bear some responsibility by the mere fact that it has humiliated him because of his sexual preference?" ("Reflections" 25) However, he concludes that a self-doubt is a problem for everybody and not only for homosexuals, and that the play tries to treat those homosexual characters as people. He begins his review with a minoritizing view and changes it to a universalizing stance.
 The issue in March 1970 has an interview with Crowley. The playwright explains that the play is about self-destruction rather than homosexuality, and that it does not suggest homosexuality is miserable. Holt, who interviews him and reviews the play, argues that "the homosexual is being liberated from guilt, slowly but surely, by the mere fact that he is gaining self-respect" ("More Spice" 32). Crowley carefully answers from a universalizing view as a playwright who must seek to appeal to a larger audience and to critics, whereas the interviewer writes the article from a minoritizing view because he can concentrate on his gay readers.
 In the October 28, 1970 issue, under a picture from a scene, a caption says, "SELF-HATE. Michael is comforted by Donald as he breaks down in the emotional climax of The Boys in the Band. Filled with self-hate, Michael lashed out viciously at all his gay friends as the birthday party" (18). Erick Meier, the reviewer, criticizes the play because it "has the dubious virtue of not being vague, secretive, or uncertain in its subject matter" (18). He even calls the playwright a "money-maker" (18) and accuses Crowley of selling out by giving heterosexual society the stereotypical image of homosexuals.
 In the September 29, 1973 issue, there is a review by Doug Richards of the San Diego production. He asks the question, "Has the Gay Liberation Movement made it [The Boys in the Band] dishonest?" and answers it himself, "The Boys in the Band still works" (31). After writing that the characters of the play are not stereotypical but archetypical, he points out, "the discovery of one's self, one's strength, and one's limitations is universal and eternal in its scope"(31). By saying this, he defends the play against the opinion that it is full of self-hate and shows only negative images of gay people.
 In the October 10, 1973 issue, there is a review of the Santa Monica production. "All in all, the more often one sees The Boys in the Band, the more one realizes what a fine contribution to the American theatre it is" (Richards 40). It approves of the historical importance of this play.
 In the review of the film version, in the October 9, 1974 issue, admitting the film encourages the negative stereotypes of homosexuality, Mark Freedman, the reviewer, emphasizes the positive aspects of the film. The plot suggests that "homosexuality is a natural expression of human sexuality" and it develops "a positive self-image of role models" (37). He argues that the characters' self-destructiveness is a function of a context, which is produced by the plot itself. He also mentions the gay liberation proceeding at the time and optimistically suggests that the situation around gay people is changing to produce more positive gay role models.
 The evaluation of The Boys in the Band in The Advocate settled to admitting the historical importance of the play, acknowledging the fact that it was written before Stonewall. Minoritizing views in these articles are conspicuous because it was very important to form a community and to help gay people establish gay identity for the sake of liberation. Since The Advocate is a magazine committed to gay politics, they had to minoritize gay people by putting them into a group that seeks liberation.

Responses from the mainstream media
 Of numerous reviews, just three in The New York Times by Clive Barnes show how this play was received and how the reception changed in such a short time. His reviews begin with a universalizing view and change to a minoritizing one. Both his views are homophobic, though he shows his liberal attitudes toward homosexuals. In a review on April 15, 1968, after he praises the play as "by far the frankest treatment of homosexuality I have ever seen on the stage," he continues as follows:

The point is that this is not a play about a homosexual, but a play that takes the homosexual milieu, and the homosexual way of life, totally for granted and uses this as a valid basis of human experience. Thus it is a homosexual play, not a play about homosexuality. (48)

His response is based on a universalizing view; he generalizes struggles of gay people in the play as a common element of all human beings. At a glance, his review does not seem to be homophobic at all. However, as I argued concerning the political importance of minoritizing views of reviews in The Advocate, this universalization leads to disturbing the formation of gay people as a group, particularly when the historical context before Stonewall is considered.
 In his second review, on February 18, 1969, his attitude becomes a little more ambivalent. He says that many homosexuals are not so self-loathing and miserable:

I should have imagined that a well-adjusted homosexual stood as much chance of happiness as a heterosexual. Certainly among my own friends and acquaintances there are homosexuals who are neither alcoholic, neurotic or pathetic, and if they are not as happy as anyone else, they are putting on a remarkably good act. (36)

He concludes his review by adding, "I do hope that Mr. Crowley is wrong and that all homosexuals are not as wretchedly miserable as he paints them" (36). He emphasizes his liberal position by giving an example of his homosexual friends. At the same time, he tries to clarify that he is not a homosexual and he is outside the homosexual world. What he says in effect is that, though he does not understand personally, homosexuals cannot be satisfied with those depictions that are full of self-hate in the play. Making the distinction between "I" as Barnes and "they" as homosexuals clear, his review becomes one with a minoritizing view. But this minoritization is different from the one shown in the reviews for The Advocate; his minoritization leads to forming a group as a target of discrimination but not as a political group because he does not try to commit anything to homosexuals. By insisting that the playwright is wrong and trivializing the struggle of gay people, he undermines the political message that the play would bring.
 On April 18, 1970, after Stonewall happened, Barnes complains that the play has become a period piece and anti-homosexual elements of the play are bothering:

[T]he liberating sense of breakthrough is missing. I am also more and more disturbed by the antihomosexual element in the play. I do not believe that all homosexuals are nearly as miserable as Mr. Crowley would have us believe. Some of my best friends are homosexual, and basically neither sadder nor gladder than my heterosexual friends. (34)

Again he introduces the example of his homosexual friends. He criticizes the anti-homosexual element of the play more strongly. Though it is not clear how close the relationship between him and his friends is, he says that his friends do not have special problems about their homosexuality, as if he understood them very well. His remark on the situation of his homosexual friends changes from "not as happy as anyone else but putting on a remarkably good act" in his previous review to "neither sadder nor gladder than heterosexuals." He may be right in relation to his particular homosexual friends, but the problem is that his friends who are not sadder or gladder than heterosexuals inevitably become a representation of many other homosexuals who do not feel happy with the situation. He may be like Alan, who did not know Michael, his close friend, had been troubled with gay identity. The reviewer mentions that the times have changed, but does not discuss the real social situation around gay people at all; he does not refer to Stonewall or the gay liberation movement at all. Since he pretends to take a liberal attitude to the political situation of homosexuals and does not deal with any actual social matter, these reviews help to spoil the social phenomenon that The Boys in the Band caused. Begun with a universalizing view, his reviews change to a minoritizing view that criticizes the play's self-loathing elements; both views are homophobic.
 There are a number of reviews in other papers and magazines. Most of them are similar but a few interesting examples might be analyzed here.4 One of them is similar to the reviews by Barnes. The review, the one for the Chicago production of the play in The Chicago Daily News by Sydney J. Harris, begins from a universalizing view. At the beginning, he argues that the play is about homosexuals but that one will miss the point if he or she sticks to it; he says that the play actually is about human nature. As Barnes did, Harris also admits that this is the first play to deal with homosexuality "not as a 'problem' but as a 'condition'" (n. pag.) However, in the last paragraph, his minoritizing view is exposed:

Since this is a family newspaper, I would be remiss in my duty if I failed to note that the language in "The Boys in the Band" is about as raw and rough and raunchy as one is likely to hear on any stage. It is not for those of tender sensibilities, and they are hereby cautioned to stay away. (n. pag.)

At first glance, he just notes that there are a lot of dirty words in the play for sensitive people. However, without intention but skillfully, he confirms the border between the world where ordinary family people with moderation live and the one where homosexual others reside. His review begins with a universalizing view and ends with a minoritizing view. He pretends to be a liberal and fashionable person who understands gay people and an edgy culture, but actually his homophobia is hidden in his text. This complicated mixture of universalizing and minoritizing views helps to enhance heterosexism by emphasizing the dichotomy of homo/ heterosexual.
 There was a typical homophobic response in Women's Wear Daily. The reviewer Martin Gotteried warns readers to be careful because the play is entirely homosexual. Superficially, the reviewer seems to criticize the play but, actually, what he dislikes is not the play but homosexuality itself:

The characters keep talking about love (or play cruel truth-games about love) but their love is, I think, in the most horrifying sense, shallow and perverse. Perhaps homosexuals really can love each other but "The Boys in the Band" doesn't show it. And one more matter − perhaps it's my thing but I just can't take guys dancing with each other. It only looks like pathetic imitation of men with women. (44)

His homophobia is overtly shown in the above quotation. Though the reviewer appears to deny homosexuality as if stating a personal opinion by carefully adding, "I think" and "perhaps it's my thing," this referencing is very effective in circulating homophobic discourses. The phrase "pathetic imitation of men with women" is inadequate and thoughtless even when the context of the time is taken into consideration.
 A clearer homophobic example is a review by Elliot Norton in Record American. He also says that the play is about homosexuals and warns readers not to see it if they are unsophisticated or unprepared. He uses the word "pervert" to refer to the characters many times, which is extraordinary compared to a lot of contemporary reviews for this play; he refers to gay people as "men but not male," by which he probably means that he can admit homosexuals as human beings but he cannot approve of them as decent people under gender system (32).

 Both the play text and responses from the gay media use a minoritizing view in order to try to commit to gay liberation. Although the text by Mart Crowley actually has certain elements to enhance the stereotypical image of homosexuals and consequently ghettoizes them, characters in the play also show liberating elements, depicted in a universalizing view. Reviews in The Advocate seek to find liberating elements of this epoch-making play from a minoritizing view. They analyze the play and reviews by the heterosexual media and propose interpretations that will assist gay people in attaining rights, considering the historical and political context of the play.
 By contrast, reviews in the popular media only pretend to be liberal by using universalizing discourses, insisting that the play is not about homosexuality but about human nature. Their universalizing view works to dissolve the homosexual community, which gay people were trying to form for a political movement in those days. Then they change their approach from a universalizing to a minoritizing view. They criticize the depictions of the self-loathing and stereotypical characters in the play, which eventually produce homophobic discourses. Some feign an understanding of the situation of gay people and criticize self-hatred in the characters, insisting they are too exaggerated. These reviews are homophobic because critics do not even try to understand the real situation without referring to an actual social movement; they will turn the message of the play into nothing. Others more directly denounce homosexuality itself by isolating homosexual elements in the play, using an obviously homophobic minoritizing view.


1  In his essay, Timothy Scheie uses universalizing and minoritizing views to analyze Barnes and another critic's reviews. His focus is on the revival of the play in 1996 and comparison of gayness and queernees caused by the time gap.
2  "Camp" is a critically loaded word. David Bergman summarizes what it means in four points: "First, everyone agrees that camp is a style . . . that favors 'exaggeration,' 'artifice,' and 'extremity.'" Second, "camp exists in tension with popular culture, commercial culture, or consumerist culture." Third, "the person who can recognize camp, who sees things as campy, or who can camp is a person outside the cultural mainstream." Fourth, "camp is affiliated with homosexual culture, or at least with a self-conscious eroticism that throws into question the naturalization of desire" (5). In this paper, "camp" is used to refer to behaviors and words by gay characters that include elements such as feminine gestures, masculine poses, and ironic dramatization of the heterosexual culture.
3  In her Between Men, Sedgwick argues that society depends on relationships between men and exchanging women. In this homosociality, homophobia is necessary in order to deny homoerotic desire between them.
4  For example, see other reviews for Villager (23 May 1968), The Village Voice (25 Apr. 1968), Chelsea Clinton News (5 Sep. 1968), Wall Street Journal (16Apr.1968), New York Post (15 Apr. 1968), Christian Science Monitor (17 Aug. 1968), and Variety (17 Apr. 1968).

Works Cited

  • Barnes, Clive. "Stage: Birthday for 'Boys in the Band.'" New York Times 18 Apr. 1970: 34.
  • ------. "Theater: 'Boys in the Band' Opens Off Broadway." New York Times 15 Apr. 1968: 48.
  • ------. "'The Boys in the Band' Is Still a Sad Gay Romp." New York Times 18 Feb. 1969: 36.
  • Bergman, David, ed. Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality. Massachusetts; U of Massachusetts P, 1993.
  • Clum, John M. Still Acting Gay. New York; St. Martin's Press, 2000.
  • Crowley, Mart. "The Boys in the Band." The Band Plays. Los Angeles: Alyson Books, 2003.
  • Duberman, Martin. Stonewall. New York; Plume, 1994.
  • Dynes, Wayne R., ed. Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. New York: Garland Publishing, 1990.
  • Freedman, Mark. "Not Just Self-Hate−'Band' Boys Show Positive Images." The Advocate 9 Oct. 1974.
  • Gottfried, Martin. "'The Boys in the Band.'" Women's Wear Daily 16 Apr. 1968: 44.
  • Harris, Sydney J. "'The Boys' a Funny Play." Chicago Daily News 3 Dec. 1969: N. pag.
  • Hoffman, William M., ed. Gay Plays: The First Collection. New York; Avon, 1979.
  • Holt, Mel. "Mart Crowley Talks About His 'Boys in the band.'" Los Angeles Advocate Feb. 1969: 3.
  • ------. "More Spice, Less Sugar." Los Angeles Advocate Mar.1970: 32.
  • ------. "Reflections on 'Boys.'" Los Angeles Advocate Apr. 1969: 54.
  • Leitsch, Dick. "Police Raid Club Sets Off First Gay Riot." Los Angeles Advocate Sep. 1969: 3+.
  • Lige and Jack. "N.Y. Gays: Will the Spark Die?" Los Angeles Advocate Sep. 1969: 3+.
  • Meier, Erik. "Gays in Plays: Is the Author's Problem Really Our Problem?" The Advocate 28 Oct. −10 Nov. 1970: 18+.
  • Norton, Elliot. "'Boys in the Band' at Wilbur; Bold Play About Homosexuals." Record American, Boston 5 May 1969: 32.
  • Richards, Doug. "Boys Still Good Theatre." The Advocate 29 Sep. 1973: 31.
  • ------. "Durable Gay Play−Boys Cavort Again, Now in Santa Monica." The Advocate 10 Oct. 1973: 40.
  • Ross, Jay. "Boys in the Band−Bitchy, Citing, Hilarious!" Los Angeles Advocate Apr. 1969: 5.
  • Russo, Vito. The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies. New York; Harper & Row, 1981.
  • Scheie, Timothy. "Acting gay in the age of Queer: Pondering the revival of The Boys in the Band." Modern Drama Spring 1999, vol. 42 issue 1: 1-12.
  • Sedgwick, Eve K. The Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990.
  • ------. Between Men. New York; Columbia UP, 1985.
  • White, Edmund. The Beautiful Room Is Empty. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.
  • "4 Policemen hurt in 'Village' Raid. New York Times 29 Jun. 1969: 33.
  • "Happiness Is a Smug Straight." Los Angeles Advocate Aug. 1968: 12.
  • "Police Again Rout 'Village' Youths." New York Times 30 Jun. 1969: 22.