Sunday, 28 April 2013

Bill Tilden

The name Bill Tilden does not mean much to many these days.  But ‘Big’ Bill—he was six foot one-and-a-half inches tall—won Wimbledon twice, in 1920 and 1930 (the latter when he was thirty-seven), and he was described by René Lacoste as ‘the greatest player of all time’.  He was a close friend of Charlie Chaplin’s, and once starred in a silent movie, Hands of Hope (1924), which he had written and produced himself.  One summer in Hollywood, Clifton Webb hired him to give tennis lessons to some of Webb’s favourite actresses, including Greta Garbo.  He published tennis stories and even, in 1930, a tennis novel, Glory’s Net
            Tilden was not a particularly clubbable presence on the tennis circuit.  In the locker room he was obsessively private, never allowing himself to be seen naked, even by men who knew him all his life.  Outside the locker room he preferred the company of ball-boys to that of his fellow competitors.  He agreed to take part in a tournament in Baltimore only if he could throw a dinner party for some of his young friends.  These turned out to be the majority of the page-boys staffing the US Senate.  While it is true that he mixed with celebrities—in London with Tallulah Bankhead and Beatrice Lillie, for instance—he was generally uneasy in the presence of adults.  His nephew defined the attitude: ‘Uncle Bill was always glad to see you, but at the same time, you knew he would be gladder still when you left’.  At first, there was no evidence that he tried to seduce his tennis protégés, even if, as his biographer puts it, they ‘tended to be cute little devils, and … Big Bill always seemed to have his arms around them’.  However, once he had turned professional in 1931 and begun a hectic schedule of international touring, he appears to have started taking more risks.  He would always travel with a teenage boy, ostensibly a ball-boy, usually German.  (He had first played in Germany in 1927, and loved it there.  Even as late as 1938 he called himself ‘the most ardent admirer of the German people’ and said he would ‘rather play in Berlin than any city in the world’.)  Some cities he visited could not be returned to: in his biographer’s not very forthcoming words, ‘some unfortunate incidents were hushed up on the road, some polite warnings given’.  Presumably, the same was true not only of cities but also of people’s homes.  He was probably never invited back to Errol Flynn’s place after being accused of assaulting a seventeen-year-old guest at a tennis party Flynn held in 1943 (pp.51, 50, 159, 171).
            Tilden did not seek anything so complex as sexual mutuality with his boys.  He would masturbate them but not himself—again, his obsessive sense of privacy prevailed, and he would only masturbate himself later, when alone.  After his eventual arrest, the court psychiatrist who asked if he had ever engaged in ‘fellatio’ or ‘pederasty’ (anal intercourse) received a furious response.  Tilden regarded such activities as ‘perverted’; indeed, he was not even known to associate his own activities with ‘homosexuality’, a word which no one could remember his ever having used.  Yet, notwithstanding the rudimentary nature of his sexual contacts with the boys he befriended, if we are to believe a young tennis pro he spoke to in the late 1930s, he claimed to have rather unconvincingly grand aims.  ‘Those of us who have my way of thinking’, he supposedly said, ‘well, we look upon ourselves as the chosen few … I think it’s my responsibility to convert young boys.  God has smiled upon us’ (pp.212, 208).
            God was not smiling on Big Bill at ten in the evening on 23 November 1946, when two police officers flagged down an automobile that was being driven erratically along Sunset Boulevard.  In the driving seat was a fourteen-year-old boy called Bobby.  In the passenger seat was Bill Tilden, with his left arm around Bobby’s shoulders and his right hand inside Bobby’s flies.  Expecting probation, Tilden was horrified when, on 16 January 1947, he was sentenced to a year behind bars.  Having served eleven and a half months he was released on 30 August 1947, but banned from any further association with juveniles.  So another custodial sentence followed when, on 28 January 1949, he was accused of interfering with a sixteen-year-old hitchhiker called Michael.  Sentenced to another year, Tilden served ten months, from 10 February to 18 December 1949.  By now he was almost fifty-seven and barely capable of earning a living.  He more or less gave up washing, always wore the same clothes, and gradually pawned his old tennis trophies to pay his rent.  He died of a heart attack, aged sixty, on 5 June 1953.

Source: Frank Deford, Big Bill Tilden: The Triumphs and the Tragedy (London: Gollancz, 1977)

Kate O'Brien

KATE O’BRIEN (1897-1974)

In 1936 the Irish novelist Kate O’Brien’s novel Mary Lavelle was banned in her homeland for its dangerous representations of women on the verge of a social breakthrough. 
When Mary Lavelle is about to be introduced to Agatha Conlan, she is warned that she is ‘The worst-tempered woman in Spain’.  Keogh says, ‘She’s a bit of a poser’; Barker says, ‘She’s just not like the rest of us, that’s all’; and Duggan says, ‘Deo gratias … One of her sort is quite enough’.  It is no wonder that Mary, by now quite intrigued, says, ‘She sounds queer’.  The two women duly meet, and Agatha Conlan takes Mary Lavelle to a bullfight.  Agatha is thrilled by the magnificent first kill, causing Mary to think, ‘You might take her for a boy just now’.  As they get to know each other, a slow-burning romance develops between them; but nothing is spoken out loud until Mary announces her intention of going home to Ireland.  Agatha speaks at last.  Referring to an earlier conversation, she says, ‘You asked me if I’d ever had a crush—on a matador, of all people! … And I said I’d never had a crush on a living creature.  That would have been true up to the first day I saw you.  It’s not true any more’.  She adds, ‘Are you shocked?  I like you the way a man would, you see.  I never can see you without—without wanting to touch you.  I could look at your face forever’.  However, used as she is to suppressing her instincts, she withdraws her declaration with an abrupt ‘Forget it.  Forget the rot I talked’.
            Two weeks later, they are taking their leave of each other in the station café.  No reference has been made to Agatha’s confession of desire.  Mary has not dwelt on it.  All we really know is that she did not react as negatively as she might have: ‘Mary had not been frightened or repulsed’.  Now, Agatha asks for a photograph, but Mary does not have one; she agrees to send one.  Agatha takes this last opportunity to speak out, saying, ‘I’ll never forget my first sight of you … I had never known anything about attraction to other people or about the sensation of pleasure human beauty can give … So I fell into what my confessor calls the sin of Sodom’.  To which Mary aptly responds, ‘They have queer names for things’.  Mary’s male lover Juanito comes into the café to take her away, and in the next chapter he and Mary make love in enough purple prose to paper a 1970s lounge.  When Mary finally takes her homeward train through the Pyrenees she remembers the leave-taking at the station café: ‘Agatha had cried at the station—she never thought Agatha could cry’.  It is this image of the apparently strong, manly woman reduced to tears by her affection for a more womanly woman that completes the book’s account of Agatha Conlan.
All of this was too much for the Irish Republic and Mary Lavelle was suppressed.  After Kate O’Brien’s death her lover Lorna Reynolds wrote an unsatisfactory, unforthcoming biography of her, calling their relationship ‘a memorable and stormy friendship’.  (What could be more demeaning to a love affair than to patronise it with the epithet ‘memorable’?)  Commenting on the book ban, she says, with some animus, ‘The Church has always made a place for sinners in its widespread commonwealth, but the Irish state would have none of them’.  In 1941 O’Brien’s novel The Land of Spices was likewise banned.  Reynolds has not much more to say about the matter than this: ‘The Chairman [of the Censorship Board], Professor [William] Magennis, also a Senator, waxed magnificently eloquent in expression of his horror and disgust at any reference to such a subject [as homosexuality] and his fear for the young people of the country, if they were to learn of its existence’ (Reynolds 1997).  The problem boiled down to a single phrase in the book: ‘in the embrace of love’—referring to two males.  (It may remind the reader of that most shocking clause in The Well of Loneliness, ‘and that night they were not divided’.)
The scene in question occurs when the central character, Helen, at the age of eighteen, goes home unexpectedly and looks in the window of her father’s study: ‘She saw Etienne and her father, in the embrace of love’.  (Etienne Marot is a student of his.)  This awesome moment constitutes, for her, ‘the last scene of youth, of innocence’.  She will always remember its immediate effect, ‘her savage awareness of total change’.  Her mind replays the scene involuntarily and repeatedly, especially when she is alone in the quiet of the night: ‘She remembered how the picture of Etienne and her father, stamped on her brain, became luridly vivid in those nights, and would not leave the stretched canvas of her eyelids.  She remembered how it changed, became dreadful, became vast or savaged or gargoyled or insanely fantastical; how it became a temptation, a curiosity, a threat, and sometimes no more than piteous, no more than dreary, sad’.  In other words, she goes through a whole gamut of common homophobic reactions.  The veil of civility has been rent—the very same veil that the Irish establishment sought to maintain by banning books.  ‘So that was the sort of thing that the most graceful life could hide!  That was what lay around, under love, under beauty.  That was the flesh they preached about, the extremity of what the sin of the flesh might be.  Here, at home, in her father, in the best person she had known or hoped to know’.
O’Brien foreshadows the revelation of the father, Henry Archer’s homosexuality with some fairly cumbersome dramatic irony, concentrated in Helen’s and her mother Catherine’s attitudes to him.  For instance, of Helen as a child, the narrative declares that ‘It always delighted her to come on the sight of him suddenly and realise, always with new pleasure, that he was different from other men’.  There will, of course, be a time when she ‘come[s] on the sight of him suddenly’ and makes the same discovery, to somewhat less delightful effect.  Catherine unguardedly says to her at one point, ‘Father is the Socrates of our suburb, darling’.  Catherine dies when Helen is eleven.  (The young violinist Etienne went to Henry Archer for English lessons.  The maid Marie-Jeanne thought Archer was grooming him to marry Helen.)  The rest of the novel is about Helen’s compensation for and recovery from this moment.  She develops a hatred of her father and then a vocation.  At the time of narration, she is the Reverend Mother in a convent.

Kate O’Brien, Mary Lavelle (London: Heinemann, 1936), pp.84, 117, 284, 285, 286, 295, 298, 343, 156-159.  All French names are italicised throughout the book. I am grateful to Catherine Byron for drawing my attention to O’Brien and her work.
Lorna Reynolds, Kate O’Brien: A Literary Portrait (Gerrards Cross, Bucks: Colin Smythe, & Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble, 1987), pp.62, 75.

Jackson Pollock


Jackson Pollock is known to have had homosexual experiences, but their extent and their importance to his work are subject to the varied speculation of biographers and art critics.  One friend from his youth reported that he admitted to having had ‘some homosexual experiences when he was younger’.  These, or some of these, may have taken place during a week he spent riding the rails between Kansas and California in June 1931, when Pollock was in his late teens.  At any rate, a year or two later he met a youth called Peter Busa, who confessed to having been sexually assaulted while riding the rails—whereupon, according to Busa, Pollock seemed to come close to expressing something that had been troubling him, but eventually held back.  Busa commented: ‘I was sure he had had encounters with men … and I think he was troubled by some of those experiences.  He didn’t need anybody to tell him he had homosexual drives’.  Busa also claimed that a man who shared a house with Tennessee Williams once screwed Pollock in the arse when the latter was drunk.  If true, this kind of sexual event seems to have been part of a guilt-ridden pattern.  Drink may always have been involved; and, just as often, anger.  One observer says of Pollock: ‘Certainly there was a dormant gay quality that he resented in himself—he didn’t know how to handle it’.  Another says: ‘Jackson was very up front with Lee [Krasner, his wife] about his homosexual instincts and his fear of them’.  At several points in his life, Pollock associated with circles which were largely gay.  One of these was Peggy Guggenheim’s entourage of young men who had, for various reasons including the obvious, been turned down as ‘undesirable’ for military service in the Second World War.  Guggenheim was widely regarded as a sexual predator who preferred paying court to young men who were homosexual because they might be more likely to go to bed with a middle-aged woman.  (The logic is inscrutable, but let it pass.)  She tried in vain to seduce the writer Alfred Barr; she succeeded in bedding Jackson Pollock just once, but the occasion was otherwise not a success.  Another group of gay men with whom Pollock was briefly associated were those who gathered at the Provincetown studio of the nineteen-year-old Julian Beck, who in his early twenties would found the Living Theater.

Source: Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Jackson Pollock: An American Saga (London: Pimlico, 1992), pp.200, 249, 480, 832, 470-489.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Dorothy Bussy

Published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press and dedicated ‘To the Beloved Memory of V.W.’, Dorothy Bussy’s Olivia (1949) celebrates a lesbianism that is as headily cultural as it is physical in its pleasures.  Olivia’s adolescence involves puberty not only of the body but also of speech: her coquettishness is Colettish.  At boarding school, she and her friend Lucy express their rebelliousness by reading and speaking, long before they fully understand quite what it is they are reading and talking about.  Their central topic is beyond them: ‘that extraordinary, alluring, forbidden mystery that we sensed lying at the back of all grown-up minds, what was it?  We knew dimly we should never understand anything till we understood that’.  Although, for the time being, their curiosity brings them being, their curiosity brings them nowhere near the truth, they are aware that ‘our conversations were extremely perilous, to be indulged in only with the utmost precautions’.
Even in the officially sanctioned discourse of her academic life, Olivia keeps encountering revelatory materials, as when she begins to study Latin: ‘Every page of the Latin grammar seemed to hold some passionate secret which must be mine or I should die.  Words!  How astonishing they were!’  This awakening to a new emotional world, expressible in words even when not spelt out by them, is occasioned in the first place by the presence of a particular teacher, Mlle Julie.  Not surprisingly, Olivia’s thrill at the subjects she is learning becomes indivisible from her feelings for the woman who is teaching those subjects.  For example, it is when Mlle Julie is reading aloud from Racine that Julie first pays attention to her face in any detail, and from the intensity of theses observations she infers an intimacy with the unwitting teacher:  ‘What a strange relationship exists between the reader and his listener.  What an extraordinary breaking down of barriers!’  Only after she has experienced the intoxicating effect of informal conversation with Mlle Julie does Olivia find that she is not alone in having made this discovery: ‘Mlle Julie’s talk, I discovered later, was celebrated, and not only amongst us schoolgirls, but amongst famous men, whose names we whispered’.  Listening to, and learning from, this teacher is an erotic experience even to the extent of imbuing listening and learning themselves with a pervasive eroticism.
As it happens, Mlle Julie is lesbian; but although she has her favourites among the girls and is aware of the passions and jealousies she arouses among them, she is actually involved in a mercurial long-term affair with her colleague and competitor Mlle Cara.  At one point, Cara accuses Julie of corrupting Olivia, in the latter’s hearing; but this is less a serious accusation than the voicing of a breakdown in their own relationship, and soon afterwards, when Julie announces her intention of emigrating to Canada, Cara commits suicide with chloral.  While Julie sits vigil all night beside the corpse, Olivia waits outside the door, grieving for the teacher’s grief but hoping for her love.  In vain, as it turns out: for Mlle Julie does, indeed, leave the school and go to Canada.  Her farewells to Olivia are all the cooler for being distantly spoken in that beloved voice.
Notwithstanding the intellectual successes of her teaching, perhaps the most significant lesson imparted to the girl by the older woman has been a physical self-consciousness.  On the night of a fancy-dress ball, Mlle Julie is so unguarded as to say she thinks Olivia pretty.  Later, lying in bed, waiting in vain for the teacher to carry out a lightly-given promise to visit her there, Olivia considers the implications of this momentous compliment: ‘Mine, a pretty body.  I had never thought of my body till that minute.  A body!  I had a body- and it was pretty.  What was it like?  I must look at it’.  She lights a candle, gets out of bed, takes off her chemise and goes across to the small mirror above the washstand.

I could only see my face and shoulders in it.  I climbed on to a chair.  Then I could see more.  I looked at the figure in the glass, queerly lighted, without head or legs, strangely attractive, strangely repulsive.  And then I slowly passed my hands down this queer creature’s body from neck to waist—Ah!—That was more than I could bear—that excruciating thrill I had never felt before.  In a second my chemise was on again, I was back in bed.

This ambivalent self-appraisal gives her her first inkling of sexual complexity: the combined attraction and repulsion; the objectifying reduction of the body to its sexually necessary elements, dismembered of head and limbs; the sense of dislocation from the self (‘this queer creature’s body’); and, of most immediate practical value perhaps, the fact that the voice of the loved one may be embodied most thrillingly in the touch of one’s own hands.  That all this is derived from Mlle Julie’s banal evocation of mere prettiness confirms the miraculous capability of her celebrated ‘talk’.  To have listened to her is to have been transformed.  This is the essence, surely, of the Socratic mode of education, the ‘leading out’ of the child into the self-awareness that is her or his own adulthood.

Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent had an early sense of himself as an outsider, marginal and vulnerable.  It was a self-image that he could never quite shake off, even at the peak of his subsequent success.  He was born in Oran, Algeria, on 1 August 1936, a fact that cast him in some Parisian eyes as worse than a provincial, a kind of misplaced Arab under the skin.  He was bullied at school.  Aware from an early age that he was homosexual, he actually dared to do something about it – his earliest sexual experiences were with Arab boys in the vieux quartier of Oran – but he suffered grave pangs of fear and guilt as a consequence.  His teenage enthusiasm in couture and theatre design was matched by a precocious talent which first saw recognition when, at seventeen, he won the third prize in a competition for young fashion designers.  He saw Paris for the first time, in 1953, when he went to the awards ceremony. In the autumn of the following year he went back to Paris to enrol in the Chambre Syndical de la Couture.  When he entered the same competition again, he beat a boy called Karl Lagerfield to first place.
It was in 1955 that, as they say, Yves Saint Laurent met his destiny in the person of Christian Dior, who gave him a job on the strength of a selection of his drawings.  Saint Laurent started work on 20 June 1955, and had soon made himself, if not indispensable to the firm, at least demonstrably useful to it.  For the autumn collection of 1957 he designed no fewer than thirty-five outfits – more than any previous Dior junior had been invited to do.  In fact, Dior had already decided that Yves Saint Laurent would be his successor.  Thus, Dior’s death in October was duly followed on 15 November 1957 by the announcement that Saint Laurent would take over all the company’s sketching.  He was twenty-one; his first major show would be at the end of January 1958.
When Yves Saint Laurent met the painter Bernard Buffet and his lover Pierre Bergé, he and Bergé fell in love at first sight.  Things worked out neatly: for a while they became lovers, Buffet went off and got married.  Bergé was six years older than Saint Laurent and, being based in Paris, had had less of a problem coming to terms with his homosexuality.  As he later said, ‘By the time I was twenty-one or twenty-two I’d met people like Jean Cocteau.  If you moved in those circles it was perfectly acceptable’.  It was through Bergé that Saint Laurent now met and became a friend of Cocteau, who was in his late sixties; and he began going to the soirées of Marie-Laure de Noailles.  (Bergé, incidentally, once spent the night after a leftist demonstration sharing a prison cell with Albert Camus.)
Autumn 1960 saw the influential triumph of Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Beat’ collection; but the year was marred by a major personal defeat.  Called up for military service in Algeria, Saint Laurent survived a mere nineteen days in barracks before suffering a breakdown and being hospitalised.  He was kept heavily sedated in the Val-de-Grace asylum and allowed no visitors.  Eventually, Bergé managed to get him released from the asylum and discharged from the army on health grounds.  Meanwhile, to add insult to injury, he had been replaced at Dior – although he later got compensation for this.  The time was obviously ripe to set up his own independent fashion house, with Pierre Bergé acting as business manager.  The new firm of Yves Saint Laurent held its first show on 29 January 1962, just four days after the launch of Dior’s new collection.
The press response was muted at best, but Yves Saint Laurent’s reputation for chic soon outstripped that of the older firm.  It helped that Saint Laurent and Bergé were making some extremely trendy friends. During the period when they set up their first Rive Gauche boutique in Paris (22 September 1966) and the first astonishing collections of trouser suits and smokings for women were launched, they were to be seen in the company of such superstars of the arts world as Rudolf Nureyev (whom they had first met before his defection in 1961, but who now often sought them out in Paris) and Andy Warhol (whom they met in the summer of 1966).  Before long, Warhol’s trademark images were appearing on Yves Saint Laurent’s trademark frocks.  The 1968 autumn collection was shrewdly hitched to the bandwagon of youthful innovation when they dedicated it to the students who had participated in les événtments in May. 
When the second Rive Gauche boutique was opened in 1968, this time in Manhattan, the friendship with Warhol developed further.  According to a friend’s account, ‘They didn’t say much to each other as Yves’s English was never very good and Andy hardly spoke French at all’.  Not that, even if they had been fluent in each other’s language, this would ever have been the most loquacious friendship, since the two men were oddly similar in being at their happiest as taciturn observers in the midst of a vivid social whirl.  Rive Gauche opened in London in 1969; then there was Rive Gauche for men, and both Nureyev and Warhol wore the brand.  Yves Saint Laurent, in many respects the most introverted of men, was photographed naked by Jeanloup Sieff, and his image was then used to advertise the new Yves Saint Laurent men’s scent.  (He was thirty-five at the time.)  Saint Laurent and Nureyev, whose relationship had always bee flirtatious, gave some of their friends the impression that flirtation, the theory of desire, had at some point been put into practice.  Warhol, by contrast, always seemed to be on his own personal planet. According to a fourth party, when Saint Laurent and Bergé were in Venice with Warhol:

Once I suggested going to see a wonderful Veronese in a nearby church.  And Andy said, ‘Oh gee! Virna Lisi!  Let’s go see her!’  He thought Veronese was an Italian movie star!

Later, Warhol made a series of silk-screen portraits of Saint Laurent; but when he agreed also to portray two other designers, Valentino and Roy Halston Frowick, Saint Laurent threatened to destroy his own.
Yves Saint Laurent was an avid reader of Proust, but for superstitious reasons he never read to the end of Le Temps Retrouvé; instead, he would go back to the beginning and start again.  When in 1983 he and Bergé bought the Chateau Gabriel in Benerville, Normandy – real Proust country – they named each room after a character in the Recherche and decorated it accordingly.  (Bergé got the Baron de Charlus.)  Success had not taken them into the upper reaches of the establishment – or rather, Saint Laurent had got there on Bergé’s coat-tails.  (The arts are reason enough, in virtually any country, to debar an individual from the very highest levels.)  From 1984, Bergé became a friend of Francois Mitterand; he was now one of the most well-known members of La gauche caviare – the champagne socialists.  In 1985, Yves Saint Laurent was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.  (On the day of Mitterand’s investiture in 1985, Yves finally came out to his father.)  In 1989, Mitterand appointed Bergé president of the Opera de Paris; this eventually led to a major break with Rudolf Nureyev, who believed Bergé had culpably neglected his role as artistic director of the Opera.  On the other hand, the relationship with Andy Warhol took its own sweet course.  One of the last commissions Warhol worked on before his death in 1987 was a series of unimaginative silk-screens of Yves Saint Laurent’s pet dog, Moujik.

Source: Alice Rawsthorn, Yves Saint Laurent: A Biography (London: Harper Collins, 1996)

Dylan Thomas


As a young man, Dylan Thomas participated in sexual dalliance with other men, although his ardour seems invariably to have been fuelled by liquor.  Max Chapman describes one encounter, when Thomas was about twenty:

My own experience is really based on one boozy evening, the first, when affectionate expression went beyond accepted bounds and physical contacts of a kind were reciprocated.  All we ever did was feel under the table and do some kissing, french-kissing.  You wouldn’t say he was a queer, but he wasn’t averse to being affectionate to his own sex if he found them in some way interesting.

Oswell Blakeston, too, describes such an encounter, which took place when Thomas went to stay with him in Wimbledon:

He looked like a beautiful grubby angel in those days.  Maybe the whole thing was an act to please one.  That would have been much more likely.  But he was in bed with me.

During the same period, Thomas was fulminating against homosexual men in his voluminous letters to Pamela Hansford Johnson.  Like George Orwell, he tended to imaging them effeminising English culture, diverting critical praise from more deservingly manly artists.  In a letter of November 1933, he wrote:

Sodomhipped young men, with the inevitable sidewhiskers and cigarettes, the faulty livers and the stained teeth, reading [D.H.] Lawrence as an aphrodisiac and Marie Corelli in their infrequent baths, spew onto paper and canvas their ignorance and perversions, wetting the bed of their brains with discharges of fungoid verse.  This is the art of to-day: posturing, shamming, cribbing, and all the artifice of a damned generation.

He sounds like Thersites, railing against Achilles and Patroclus.  It is certainly odd to see the man who would soon become the most celebrated boozer of his generation worrying about the state of other people’s livers.  Oswell Blakeston was precisely the kind of literary youth he is referring to, here; but he is also likely to be voicing a beginner’s envy of the success of the previous generation, the Auden group, now coming into their own.  The following month, having seen a camp young man in a hotel, he fired off this diatribe to Johnson:

Have you remarked upon the terrible young men of this generation, the willing-buttocked, celluloid-trousered, degenerates who are gradually taking the place of the bright young things of even five years ago?  …  They always existed, but in recent months—it seems months to me—they are coming, unashamedly, out into the open.  I saw one with a drunken nigger last night.
            It is the only vice, I think, that revolts me and makes me misanthropic … But the sin of the boy with the nigger goes up like a rocketed scab to heaven.

Again, there is the disapproval of drunkenness in others; again, the sense of a general moral decline.  These homosexual men’s real sin is not their degenerate behaviour but its visibility.  (The ‘bright young things’ of the late 1920s were presumably, in Thomas’ view, all heterosexual; and, as for his shock at the interracial liaison, Thomas can never have heard of the time ‘when Harlem was in vogue’ or when Nancy Cunard was in Paris.)  Some of Thomas’ ‘posturing’ and ‘shamming’ on the issue of homosexuality gets into his poetry.  For instance, the well-known lyric ‘I See the Boys of Summer’ is a sustained and ambivalent invocation of sterile masculinity: of boys who, ‘in their ruin / Lay the golden tithings barren,/ Setting no store by harvest,’ and ‘freeze the soils’; they are ‘curdlers in their folly’ who ‘Sour the boiling honey’.  And yet, for all that, they are vibrant and attractive, even to the point of virtually personifying the summer itself.

Source: Paul Ferris, Dylan Thomas (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1977)