Chapter 25: Intermezzo - The Sleeper Issue of Homosexuality

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Each side in this Case had a male homosexual secret. Remember that we’re in 1949, when conservatives thought that male homosexuality was a sin and a crime and enlightened liberals thought that gay men were tragic mistakes of nature, mentally ill, women trapped in men’s bodies, but fortunately there was talk therapy, shock treatment and, if all else fails, lobotomies. (Homosexual men were subjected to lobotomies until recently in Communist Cuba.) Chambers, during his years in the Communist underground, had had gay sex with men he met in public places. And Hiss’s stepson (Mrs. Hiss’s son by her first marriage) was gay and had been discharged from the Navy in 1945 on psychological grounds, which was a polite way of eliminating gay sailors. The precise dimensions of each side’s gay secret, how it was concealed, and how it was hinted at publicly and used covertly, is the subject of this Podcast. Further Research: Robert Stripling, HUAC’s Chief Investigator and Nixon’s partner in the first phase of the Case, said that it was whispered around the hearing room from Day One that Chambers was “a queer” — Stripling’s word, not mine. He also said that, whenever an ex-Communist testified, within hours rumors began that he or she was an alcoholic or drug addict, had been to see a psychiatrist, or was a “sex pervert” — again, Stripling’s words, not mine. The liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., wrote discreetly that the “anti-Chambers whispering campaign was one of the most repellent of modern history.” George H. Nash, “The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945” at 100 (Basic Books 1976). Alistair Cooke used equal delicacy when, in his inventory of ‘secret explanations’ of what happened between Hiss and Chambers, he wrote “one or two other theories . . . went the rounds of Washington and New York [that] . . . so mercilessly intrude into other people’s lives that the incompleteness of this report appears a small price to pay for giving everybody so slandered the benefit of a large doubt. The reader who is most prurient to know about such theories will be the one most apt to hit on them.” Cooke at 334. Dr. Weinstein, in his definitive book on this Case, deals with Chambers’ homosexual acts at 112-13, 129-30, with Hiss’s stepson’s gayness at 424-25, and with Hiss’s use of Chambers secret gay life to ‘explain’ his mentally ill lies about Hiss at 405-08 and 639-41 (section 4, titled “Chambers as Paranoid: The Revenge Motif” in an appendix titled “Six Conspiracies in Search of an Author, 1948-1996”). I have never seen any indication that the two sides in this Case formally agreed not to smear each other with their gay secrets. Nor have I ever had any reason to believe that Alger Hiss was in the slightest degree gay. Questions: If you were one of Hiss’s lawyers and the prejudices of 1949 were still widespread today, would your ethics deter you from smearing Chambers as gay (and therefore mentally ill or evil)? Don’t you have an ethical obligation to defend your client vigorously?? If you were Prosecutor Murphy, and if you feared testimony by Hiss’s stepson, would you use your gay smear on the same grounds? On the whole, which side do you condemn more for its use of the other side’s ‘gay secret’? Here is a poem, titled “Lothrop, Montana” that Whittaker Chambers wrote. It was published (under Chambers’ real name) in The Nation magazine — to this day, the media headquarters of the Hiss side — on June 30, 1926, at page 726: The cottonwoods, the boy-trees, Imberle — the clean, green, central bodies Standing apart, freely, freely, but trammeled; With their branches inter-resting — for support, Never for caressing, except the wind blow. And yet, leaning so fearfully into one another, The leaves so pensile, so tremulously hung, as they lean toward one another; Unable to strain farther into one another And be apart; Held back where in the earth their secret roots Wrap one about another, interstruggle and knot; the vital filaments Writhing in struggle; heavy, fibrous, underearthen life, From which the sap mounts filling those trembling leaves Of the boy-trees, the cottonwoods. Is it reading too much between the lines to see in there a description of wrestling (Chambers’ college sport) by two young gay men, ending as each one’s ‘sap mounts’ within their ‘secret roots’ and ‘trembling leaves’?

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