Gay people are good at lots of things: getting a party on, for instance, or being stylish. But besides having a reputation for enthusiasm and panache, those good folks who favor their own gender are accomplished in a number of less well known areas as well, such as writing some of the world's greatest poetry and inventing the American dream. Incredulous? You would be, you little scamp. But it's true, and just to prove it, in honor of National Coming Out Week this week, we give you five great gays who redefined the American paradigm.
5. Rock Hudson Just look at that guy. He's about as all-American as a cannon that shoots fireworks and hot dogs. A marble pillar of manliness, if that's not too phallic a metaphor, Rock Hudson epitomized wholesome, American beefcakery as the leading man of some 70 feature films in the '50s and for a good chunk of the '60s. Though he never publicly came out, the fact of his sexuality was fairly well known by the decline of his career in the mid-'70s, and by then, he wasn't doing much to hide it, either.
4. Tennessee Williams Without question one of the greatest American playwrights, the author of A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was somewhat unusual in that his outing as a gay man by Time magazine in the '50s -- not exactly the most sexually tolerant era -- did not mark the end of his career. In fact, even in spite of the stigma, Tennessee Williams went ahead and won two Pulitzers and, later, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Tennessee Williams: fuck yeah.
3. Walt Whitman Though historians disagree as to whether or not Walt Whitman ever actually had sex with a man, there are definite homoerotic themes in his work -- which is pretty ballsy for the 19th century; sadly, it became a focus in critical analyses of his work at the time. Nevertheless, his seminal and colossal Leaves of Grass is now regarded as one of the most important poems of all time, and Whitman is often referred to as the father of free-verse poetry. Let's just repeat that: the fucking father of free-verse poetry. That's a big deal, kids.
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2. J. Edgar Hoover Undisputed king of the FBI and possibly one of the most effective censors ever, J. Edgar Hoover is widely rumored to have had a deviant sex life -- as we all know, the most homophobic men are usually the gayest. But the evidence is even more compelling than that: Consider Clyde Tolson, associate director of the FBI during Hoover's tenure, with whom Hoover spent most of his time and even took vacations -- plus Tolson inherited Hoover's estate; they're even buried next to each other. Pretty adorable love affair for two guys who spent their lives outing gays, crushing careers and generally punching the counterculture relentlessly with the giant fist of American xenophobia.
1. Horatio Alger He may not exactly be a household name these days, but Horatio Alger pretty much defined one of the values we as Americans hold most central. Son of a unitarian minister and later a unitarian minister himself, Alger was kicked out of his post in the face of allegations of homosexuality and pederasty. Which isn't exactly a gleaming legacy, true, but it was through those circumstances that Alger went on to write what many would call the definitive patriotic literature, rags-to-riches tales that gave the original shape to that goal for which we strive: the American dream.