Lesbians holding hands a No-no at “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories”
Two hand-holding women were forced out of the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco by a zealous guard. In San Francisco! Where did this dinosaur of a guy come from? Some Texas or Arizona hinterlands? The scandal made press headlines, created a big public outcry, and today a hand-holding action at the museum proves in modern-day color what we have always known about Gertrude Stein: Even a hundred years later, Stein is always good for a controversy. She is still too avant-garde for some and many Americans.
Yes, the guard has been replaced, the museum has strongly condemned the action and confirmed its usual explicit support for LGTB culture and its large LGTB audiences. Not much has been said about the sad political reality that in today’s world, a Jewish museum has to employ a security firm that creates an atmosphere of unpleasant toughness with the suspicion that anybody in the galleries might be a terrorist. A lesbian terrorist. OMG, even two of them! Hand in hand!! In an exhibition that is already a reason for paranoia — with its content of a woman as the head of the avant-garde, Stein, a lesbian, starting an artistic revolution, and all the queer culture surrounding her…
One of the victims of the dinosaur had made a public statement in the SF Chronicle:
July 22nd, 2011 from The San Francisco Chronicle:
Letters to the Editor:
What would Gertrude do?
I am coming out as one of the two women asked to leave the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco for holding hands last Sunday (“Guard’s crackdown gets out of hand at museum,” C.W.Nevius, July 19).
The director and regularly employed security staff at the museum all acted swiftly and with compassion regarding the homophobic incident. I am a supporter of the museum and hold the individual security guard (and his temp agency) responsible, not the museum.
I also appreciate the support of so many people standing up for our right to engage in appropriate (and frequently displayed by our straight counterparts) acts of public affection.
This was just one (and in the bigger scope, small) homophobic act by one individual, and while it was a distressing and awful experience, it most importantly calls attention to homophobia in its bigger arena — issues concerning safety.
I refer to this last year’s prevalence of young gay suicides (an outcome primarily brought about by homophobic bullying) and the verbal and physical abuses that gays in this country face all the time.
I hope that the column and ensuing dialogue around it can spark some productive action and positive effect. And everyone should go see the Gertrude Stein exhibit that we were viewing at the museum — it’s nothing short of brilliant.
Kaia Wilson, Portland, Ore.
And the Chronicle’s Leah Garchik’s column read:
“The administration of the Contemporary Jewish Museum, engulfed in unwelcome publicity when a contract security guard told two lesbians that holding hands was not allowed there, is making lemonade from that lemon.
In conjunction with “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories,” Sunday’s previously scheduled LGBT Family Morning – to feature performances by the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, the Voices Lesbian Choral Ensemble and Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco – has been declared Hand Holding Day as well. Visitors are encouraged “to come stroll hand-in-hand through the galleries, no matter who you love, and to celebrate the LGBT families in our community.”
“Making lemonade out of that lemon” is a good thing, also for Gertrude Stein who will now have even more visitors lining up at the scene of the crime. She would have rolled her eyes – or closed them in horror at the fall-back into the Victorian age she had just helped to unhinge with her avant-garde writing.
That said, in all the photographs I studied and collected for my photobiography “Gertrude Stein in Words and Pictures,” I only found a single photograph showing Gertrude and Alice touching in public, in front of a camera!
This photo, by the way, by the great gay photographer Cecil Beaton is displayed in all its beauty not just in my book but also in the museum show. Go have a look — and make sure to hold hands while you take it in!