Sunday, July 06, 2008

Robert McQueen and His Amazing Letters!

This morning I met a man who is a gay man, an actor and a Mormon. By the time I got home, I had to tell him the story of my being entrusted with an extensive collection of letters from Robert McQueen and principally two of his correspondents, Nathan Fein and Tom Youngblood. Just over two years ago, Affirm, an organization of gay, lesbian and bisexual Mormons, accepted the letters as part of their gay and lesbian collection which is housed at the University of Utah. Here is my letter.

Hey guy, Here is an article about Robert from the time when he began his career as editor of The Advocate, highlighting his Mormon roots. I read it this morning and found it very moving. His letters which I donated to Affirm start just about where the article leaves off, and cover the next 10 years or so, the last ones about six months before he died in 1989.

There about 250+ letters in all. They are divided into two parts. The most extensive is the correspondence between Robert and a writer named Nathan Fein who was The Advocate’s point person, editor, and columnist reporting and writing about the AIDS epidemic from the very start, before HIV/AIDS had a name. They show two men really grappling with how to present this information in a responsible way. And they are a real mirror of those times.

The second section of the letters were written to Tom Youngblood, the man who gave me the collection (in a big gray box from the men’s sweater store that used to be in St Francis—yeah really) with instructions to find a home for them and perhaps to make them into a book or, A PLAY. Tom loved the idea of a play. Tom was a gay activist and the most often quoted gay man in Herb Caen’s column. He died from either from AIDS complications or his own hand about 10 days after he handed me the box on the front steps of the Zen Temple where I was living on Hartford Street.
And finally, there are copies poems that Robert wrote when he was on Mission, plus one or two letters to the man who was his companion, his coming out to the man, his confession of love (I don’t have the copy in my hands, so they may not be that dramatic). These are the hardest to read—they are old-fashioned Xeroxes of the originals. They also are probably some of the most interesting when looking for the spiritual roots, and conflict, of this talented man.

I had all of McQueen’s letters to these two correspondents. I tired for several years to find Nathan’s literary executor. I have a suspicion (or can hope) that some one of his friends or family recognized the value of his work, and saved as much of it as they could. Or they may be stored in a sweater box in some closet waiting to be found. Or they may be lost. I have actually met Youngbloods’ literary executor, Dean Alan Jones of Grace Cathedral. I tired to find out who has possession of Tom’s side of correspondence. After a few phone calls and letters back and forth, I felt that perhaps there was something about my request that did not sit well with the Dean and took no further action, or maybe I just dropped the ball. Perhaps a play—or knowledge that Robert’s letters are now part of the gay and lesbian collection at the University of Utah—might peak his interest. We can pray.

I have the entire collection stored in digital copy on my old Power Mac. I scanned them all and then ran an optical character recognition program to create a Word version. It was one hell of a job, but for some reason I knew that I wanted to keep a copy for myself. Affirm accepted the collection with the understanding and their permission that I might use them someday in a play or a book.

Over the course of working with the letters, I discovered something about the reverence that Mormons have for the correspondence of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, as well as other early LDS leaders. I read about very large sums that were paid for any original. I think that there was even a scandal not so many years ago about forgeries that were either bought by the Church or some of its leaders. I have always felt that Robert’s letters were somehow part of that same tradition, the spiritual lives of Mormons that is, and not forgeries. I can attest that those are really the letters of Robert McQueen. And they are pretty amazing in their frankness about every subject they touch on.

I would love to send you off to Utah with something to read, but that might not be in the cards. But you have access to them anytime you want. I may need help in getting the Power Mac powered up, but they are yours.


Christianne said...

I would love to know more about this collection--the University of Utah does not seem to have it listed in their holdings. I am writing a dissertation on The Advocate, and Robert McQueen's influence on it was, I think, quite important!

beckybrown said...

I am the niece of Robert. I am the daughter if his older brother. How and where could I see these letters! I think of my Uncle daily! I was nineteen when he passed away. Being a teenager I never had the opportunity to truly get to know my uncle. My grandparents so loved him. My grandmother's eyes would fill full of tears whenever she spoke of him. I am fortunate to have one of his first oil paintings of the Mother Mary with Baby Jesus. It hung in my grandparents living room until the day my grandmother passed away. I love my Uncle Robert. I would absolutely love to learn more about what Robert experienced in his own words.

tellall said...

Christianne and Becky, I donated the letters to Affirmation, an organization of gay, lesbian, bi, trans and questioning Mormons. I was told that Affirm had a collection at the University of Utah--which was the reason that I thought that they should have them. I will try to go back through my files and see if I can locate the people and then, hopefully, provide you with good information ahout the whereabouts of the letters. Kind regards, Ken

beckybrown said...

I would truly appreciate that. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

You could start with a wiki insertion about Robert McQueen right soon. Today is the first I learned about Robert's death, but assumed it after I learned about his involvement with the advocate about 25 years ago.

I don't remember Robert being in any of my classes or why I even knew his name. He attended "Theodore" Roosevelt Jr. High-School, building now is a religious school, and probably East High School, original building, not High-School Musical new building. but I do not remember him there.

I remember one time seeing him outside the entrance of our common jr. High-school talking to a group of several of his female classmates and I was a bit envious of his social skills.

This may have been when I was in the ninth grade when I was offered a "Blow Job" by a boy, not Robert, in gym class without knowing what one was so I declined. Due to not much sex drive.

One of Roberts brothers Married the Daughter of Dr. William Horne Bennion. She is now barely surviving cancer. About ten years ago She and Her husband returned from The Ukraine or other former Russian territory where they were LDS mission presidents. One of the few times I remember Robert was at their wedding reception wearing a colorful cape.

He had several brothers who I saw together with their Father on the seats of a CCC built stone amphitheater at Aspen Grove Utah where hikes were started up to the summit of Mt. Timpanogos. The evening was fathers and sons camp-out for the Bonneville LDS Stake of Salt Lake Utah. Robert was a year or so younger than me and I knew him by sight and knew of an older brother but both of them were from another LDS church group.

Many years ago, a 21 year old man started talking to me about his life and some weeks later told me about his first sex experience a few days before, and admitted a few days later that it was with a man. I became interested in gay issues greatly due to my talks with him and his issues. I had already studied Kinsey and Masters and Johnson and many others and social work classes, but now I could pay attention to a real person coming to grips with something like Robert experienced at same age. I for sure will never experience the same intensity of their drives and thoughts.

I thought that I was a "good" religious boy who could resist his lust for girls,but it took a long time to realize that I was chemically deficient, an issue addressed also by Mark Twain. Reading a blog from, Jeff Dennis, a boy who became a professor after lusting after males from childhood and wondering where others like him were, caused me to wonder what Robert' story would be. . If every person had to run a dairy farm, they would know about Free-martins, Cows with male twins, the free-martins can tell, like a bull, when a cow is sexually ready for mounting. Their body and brain were were modified by the testosterone of womb mate.

There exist in the human race males that retain the full body of females, except perhaps fertility, because testosterone was deficient or the cells were genetically non responsive. Then their are the males with extra y chromosomes and associate hormone levels. A high school wrestling practice partner contributed this imperfectly remembered rhyme to my early education while in the shower: "I used to jerk off every day as a lad of innocence, but then got older and had more sense and used the knothole in the fence." It shows the ability, not fully recognized by the public, of the human male to have sex with anything. In the process of completing the requirements to serve as an LDS missionary as Robert also did, I was asked by an LDS authority if I had had sex with animals on our ranch and later warned me about fellow missionaries or other men who might want to explore sex with me.

The rhyme might have been a test invitation, but I only jerked off once a week if that often. The LDS church had not yet explicitly told me in classes not to do that even and no mention of fences or blow jobs. 6FEB2015XXX