As a queer communist, one of the most detestable things imaginable is seeing goblins like Bari Weiss and Andrew Sullivan invoking LGBTQQIA+ rights in Israel to excuse the continuing immiseration of Palestinians. These arguments usually include dog-whistles about Hamas and “radical militant Islamo-fascists” who would be handing out Nazi-like pink triangles to all the fags if not for the perky efforts of the brave little Jewish Ethno-State.
This is a short video of the late Peter Orlovsky reading his poem expressing sympathy with dispossessed Palestinians exiled in Syria, titled “Write It Down, Allen Said.” The poem narrates a trip Orlovsky took from East Jerusalem to Damascus in 1961, making absolutely clear where his loyalties laid more than five years before the June 1967 war that defined the geopolitical contours of the region up until today.
Orlovsky was the domestic partner and soulmate of Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg, author of epics like “Howl” and “Kaddish.” Long before the Stonewall rebellion and the gay liberation movement of the 1970s, Orlovsky and Ginsberg were an openly queer couple who had no shame about any of their sexual exploits, such as when Allen bragged about getting a broom shoved where the sun doesn’t shine. They both were descended from working class Eastern European immigrant families that escaped the tsarist pogroms and lost members to the Nazi bloodbath, noteworthy because of how hasbara propagandists rely on such experiences to justify Israel’s existence.
The pair had been writing and partying in the Arab world for many years, going back to when Ginsberg had sojourned to Tangier, Morocco in order to extricate their junked-out buddy William S. Burroughs and his barely-coherent novel The Naked Lunch from a carnival of black tar opium, young male prostitutes, and the Anglophone expat writing community. Queerness has existed as a liminal presence within the Arab world for centuries and same-sex eros lies just below the surface of many of its cultural expressions, including literature and painting. True, it certainly is not as exhibitionist and narcissistic as the American gay community. Furthermore, there’s no reason to deny that some Arab states are pretty regressive and homophobic. The trip described in these verses was during the heyday of secular Arab nationalism, years before Nasserism imploded into a viper’s nest of kleptocracy and Ba’athist terror regimes, which in turn bequeathed a more conservative Islamism as a potent regional political force.
But simultaneously, the decision of the Euro-American queer community to embrace middle class, liberal, and hetero-impersonating issues like marriage equality and integration into the moderate Democratic Party coalition isn’t much to brag about in my book. The American queer community has yet to reject Israeli racism and that is a moral disgrace. Orlovsky and Ginsberg understood that their liberation was linked to solidarity with the oppressed and created an important example worthy of emulation.