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Discrimination aside, what about the more indirect propagation of homosexual points of view? Homosexual taste can fall into a particular kind of self-indulgence as the homosexual revenges himself on a hostile world by writing grotesque exaggerations of straight customs, concentrates on superficial stylistic furbelows or develops a "campy" fetish for old movies. Somerset Maugham once said of the homosexual artist that "with his keen insight and quick sensibility, he can pierce the depths, but in his innate frivolity he fetches up from them not a priceless jewel but a tinsel ornament."
In many cases, including Maugham's own, that is an exaggeration. Indeed the talented homosexual's role as an outsider, far from disqualifying him from commenting on life, may often sharpen his insight and esthetic sensibility. From Sappho to Colette to Oscar Wilde and James Baldwin, homosexual authors have memorably celebrated love—and not always in homosexual terms. For example, W. H. Auden's Lullaby—"Lay your sleeping head, my love/Human on my faithless arm"—must rank as one of the 20th century's most exquisite love lyrics.
In recent years, writes Critic Benjamin DeMott, "the most intense accounts of domestic life and problems, as well as the few unembarrassedly passionate love poems, have been the work of writers who are not heterosexual . . . Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Genet and Auden. They have a steady consciousness of a dark side of love that is neither homo-nor heterosexual but simply human." New York Times Drama Critic Clive Barnes muses, "Creativity might be a sort of psychic disturbance itself, mightn't it? Artists are not particularly happy people anyway."
Despite the homosexual's position in the arts, it is easy to overestimate the acceptance he has achieved elsewhere. Most straight Americans still regard the invert with a mixture of revulsion and apprehension, to which some authorities have given the special diagnostic name of homosexual panic. A Louis Harris poll released last week reported that 63% of the nation consider homosexuals "harmful to American life," and even the most tolerant parents nervously watch their children for real or imagined signs of homosexuality, breathing sighs of relief when their boy or girl finally begins dating the opposite sex.
Such homophobia is based on understandable instincts among straight people, but it also involves innumerable misconceptions and oversimplifications. The worst of these may well be that all homosexuals are alike. In fact, recent research has uncovered a large variation among homosexual types. With some overlap, they include: