All Quiet on the Lesbian Front

The papers of record fall silent on Susan Sontag's 'open secret'

| January 6, 2005

Even in death, Susan Sontag is stirring up controversy. In press accounts of her life, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press, among others, chose not to mention Sontag's alleged lesbianism, nor report on her romantic affiliation with notable artists, such as choreographer Lucinda Childs and photographer Annie Leibovitz.

In a commentary in the Los Angeles Times, Author Patrick Moore takes issue with the omission, surmising that the editors of these major papers chose to ignore Sontag's lesbian identity because the author, filmmaker, and vocal activist was coy (but far from convincing) on the subject. He goes on to guess that Sontag tried to remain elusive about her sexuality because it made her a less threatening intellectual -- brainy, but still available to men.

In 1995, Sontag did out herself in an article published in the New Yorker, and she again spoke openly about the subject with The Guardian in 2000. In the later interview, though, she denied having a sexual relationship with Leibovitz, saying that the two were simply 'close friends.'

Washington Blade correspondent Steve Koval writes that even if it made sense for Sontag to deny her lesbianism for political, even philosophical reasons, there's no excuse for the mainstream press to de-gayify a prominent figure after their death. As one of her ardent fans wrote in their personal blog: 'I'd like to think that someone with whom Sontag shared so much time, space, and public visibility, could at least get mentioned. It seems like a kind of erasure to me.' Erasure of lesbian women, scholars argue, has made it difficult to decode the lesbian experience.

Sontag was blackballed after her frank criticism of the 'war on terror' following the attacks on 9/11.

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