I suppose I shouldn’t write of it here as it’s not really the point of this blog, but sometimes that which excites can’t be silenced. I believe Radclyffe Hall, like myself, was a great lover of trees. S/he says, “Have you ever thought about the enormous courage of trees? I have, and it seems to me amazing. The Lord dumps them down and they’ve just got to stick it, no matter what happens—that must need some courage!” Perhaps we, like Hall’s trees, just got to stick it, no matter what happens.
Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness left me feeling completely gutted. Remarkably or sadly, many of Hall’s depictions of gay struggles are still relevant, like the anguish we experience from disapproving parents and society—even the anguish parents experience from society disapproving. When Stephan seeks her father’s counsel to better understand her queerness, Hall says, “He wanted to cry out against God for this thing; he wanted to cry out: ‘You have maimed my Stephan! What had I done or my father before me, or my father’s father, or his father’s father?” While I’ve rebuked my parents in past postings for their handling of my sexuality, I realize they too are victims of society. For society—“theirs was the task of policing nature.” Once, when I complained to my brother about my father’s indefatigable disapproval, he told me I was taking it all wrong. For my father, it was about how he failed more than it was about me.
However, parents may grieve only for so long before that grief is seen as an affront to their child. Why so grievous? Is our sexuality or gender identity (in turn, whom we are) that wrong? In Stephan’s case, her mother outright rejects her. Hall fiercely captures the anger and defiance we feel towards disapproving parents. Hall says, “Through looking upon what had seemed abominable to them, they themselves had become an abomination.” I find it perplexing how parents can turn away their own child and think their actions are just. Hall says, “Here am I the creature you made through your loving; by your passion you created the thing that I am. Who are you to deny me the right to love? But for you I need never have known existence.”
Hall also speaks to the hardship of the closet. S/he says, “Loneliness, or worse still, far worse because it so deeply degraded the spirit, a life of perpetual subterfuge, of guarded opinions and guarded actions, of lies of omission if not of speech, of becoming an accomplice in the world’s injustice by maintaining at all times a judicious silence, making and keeping the friends one respected, on false pretences, because if they knew they would turn aside, even the friends one respected.” For Hall, loneliness is a double-edged sword. There is the loneliness of the closet and the ostracism one faces for living openly gay or genderqueer (“midway between the sexes”), so what is most impressive is Hall’s perspective on coming-out despite fearing a life relegated to loneliness due to society’s condemnation. Hall says, “As for those who were ashamed to declare themselves, lying low for the sake of a peaceful existence, she utterly despised such of them as had brains; they were traitors to themselves and their fellows, she insisted. For the sooner the world came to realize that fine brains very frequently went with inversion, the sooner it would have to withdraw its ban, and the sooner would cease this persecution.”
A misconception I’ve held about coming-out is once I outed myself to my parents, the hard part would be over. I’ve learned this isn’t true. Coming-out is a life-long struggle and process, and I’ve often asked myself, must we countervail injustice by coming out always to others. Even today, I know gay men who are still not out in their professional lives. Perhaps some of them for good reason. There is a really beautiful scene near the end of the novel, where Stephen is speaking to Valarie Seymour about the stressors from a life of inversion, and Valarie says to Stephen, “But do try to remember this: even the world’s not so black as it’s painted.” Perhaps we too must remember sometimes fear lies more in our mind than does prejudice in the world.
Hall was trailblazing, courageous, so shall we.