IN CHELSEA VERITAS
September 21, 2017
I began writing my play Veritas in 2007, five years after the staff of The Harvard Crimson successfully fought the university to run a story about its Secret Court of 1920, a clandestine gay witchhunt shrouded in darkness for eight decades. I believed that, if I could shed enough light on the subject, Harvard, being "Harvard," would take responsibility for silently obliterating the futures of 10 young men whom the university not only expelled and drove out of Cambridge, but dogged with inquisitional fervor for the rest of their lives. Two of them committed suicide.
When the story broke in 2002, then-president Lawrence Summers’ gave a brief statement which could be summed up in its anesthetizing opening line: “These reports of events long ago are extremely disturbing.” This admission of hypocrisy—it’s the reports that are extremely disturbing—with a shriveling yawn in the middle (“events long ago”), was a vaguely apologetic invitation to the public to see this lapse in decency as "part of a past that we have rightly left behind." Despite calls from the LGBTQ community, no posthumous degrees—or further apologies—were given.
Last year I wrote a play called Private Manning Goes to Washington which imagined the late Internet pioneer and information activist Aaron Swartz fighting to save transgender Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning from an inhumane incarceration as Swartz himself falls prey to the federal government’s draconian prosecutorial overreach. At the time, a pardon seemed beyond unlikely and all calls for Manning’s release were met with amused indifference. Audiences, however, met the play with a strong curiosity about Manning and the truths she exposed, and they walked away with empathy for her plight and recognition of her courage.
There are important distinctions to be made here: Empathy is not agreement; recognition is not endorsement; courage—whose etymological origins come from “the heart”—is inherently compassionate and concerned with the greater good.
Last week Harvard capitulated to CIA pressure and rescinded Manning’s invitation to be a visiting fellow, saying that Manning's "conduct" did not live up to "the values of public service to which we aspire." Indeed, her leaks, which included hundreds of thousands of documents that exposed hypocrisy and high-level corruption in US foreign policy, were controversial in the United States. But these revelations, which helped catalyze the Arab Spring, were invaluable to other countries whom the US had been gas-lighting for years. For those actions, she was incarcerated for seven years, much of that in solitary confinement.
In Trump’s paranoid and xenophobic America, we really need to reconsider our position on whistleblowers. Even if we do not like or are frightened by what they show us, we must recognize the tremendous sacrifice they make. And we need to be able to trust our leading educational institutions such as Harvard—whose motto is Veritas, Latin for “truth”—to remind us that curiosity is not an intrusion, to help us get curious about why an individual like Chelsea Manning would risk her life to give us such dangerous information.
Harvard, we can no longer afford be fooled by your branding. We are dealing with a deluge of manufactured realities, andyour dismissal of Chelsea Manning shows just how far you have strayed from the pursuit of Truth.
Change your decision or change your crest.
EDWARD ALL OVER AGAIN pt1
July 14, 2017
Edward gave me this she-hanger back in 1999. I was studying with him that spring and living a floor below him in a Houston high-rise with a heated rooftop pool and a glamorous blonde building manager who took selfies with her shih tzu stuffed inside a Crown Royal bag for which sometimes she'd receive free whisky.
Annoyed that I, a 21 year old who grew up in suburban Missouri, owned no art, he loaned me a 6-foot pencil drawing of a dick ("Adam") and an even larger portrait of St. Sebastian mid-martyrdom. In addition to the piece pictured above, he gave me an "antique" machete.
Jonathan, his life partner, was a sculptor and a couple decades younger. When apart, they spoke on the phone at least twice a day, good morning and good night. At dinner after an exhibition of Jonathan's opened at the Menil, Edward was listing the various reasons he was not impressed by Stephen Sondheim. Jonathan cut him off mid-sentence: "Edward, your favorite musical is Evita. Would you shut the fuck up?"
Edward never admitted admiration for any playwright who came after Beckett. My proudest moment was when I asked him, "Tell me, Edward, exactly what day did you wake up and decide you were superhuman?" to which he spit out some of his cereal. During a talkback for Occupant, his play about Louise Nevelson, I asked him what the sculptress thought of his work. "We never discussed that sort of thing. Artists talked about politics and sex. That's it."
"And how is your chaotic and self-destructive love-life?" he'd ask me as we sat down to lunch in the U of H cafeteria. I'd wanted to talk about the origin of Tobias's aria in the third act of A Delicate Balance. Or how the "goat play" was going. Or what he meant the other day when he said he felt all his life that he was standing alone on top of a mountain. After I obliged and maybe even shed a confused tear, he'd pat my shoulder and say softly, "Don't worry, your ship will come in."
3am one night I called him. I was sobbing hysterically. I'd just watched Longtime Companion and felt a gut-punch of guilt that I'd come of age just after the most devastating era of the AIDS crisis (in the United States at least). "I want to help, but I can't." He agreed it was devastating, told me about friends he'd lost, but assured me there would be plenty of crises to come. "Call again if you need to," he said after we said goodnight.