Join us for a Conversation with Nonfiction Writer and Feminist Activist Naomi Wolf
Join Stonewall National Museum and Archives on Tuesday, March 9, 2021 at 6:30 pm for a ZOOM conversation with bestselling nonfiction writer and feminist activist Dr. Naomi Wolf.
Presented in conversation with SNMA Executive Director Hunter O’Hanian, New York Times Naomi Wolf will share her recent book, Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love. Outrages explores the history of state-sponsored censorship and violations of personal freedoms through the inspiring, forgotten history of one writer’s refusal to stay silenced.
The event is free, open to the public and conducted via ZOOM.
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Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love
In 1857, Britain codified a new civil divorce law and passed a severe new obscenity law. An 1861 Act of Parliament streamlined the harsh criminalization of sodomy. These and other laws enshrined modern notions of state censorship and validated state intrusion into people’s private lives.
In 1861, John Addington Symonds, a twenty-one-year-old student at Oxford who already knew he loved and was attracted to men, hastily wrote out a seeming renunciation of the long love poem he’d written to another young man.
Outrages chronicles the struggle and eventual triumph of Symonds—who would became a poet, biographer, and critic—at a time in British history when even private letters that could be interpreted as homoerotic could be used as evidence in trials leading to harsh sentences under British law.
Drawing on the work of a range of scholars of censorship and of LGBTQ+ legal history, Wolf depicts how state censorship, and state prosecution of same-sex sexuality, played out—decades before the infamous trial of Oscar Wilde—shadowing the lives of people who risked in new ways scrutiny by the criminal justice system. She shows how legal persecutions of writers, and of men who loved men affected Symonds and his contemporaries, including Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Walter Pater, and the painter Simeon Solomon. All the while, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was illicitly crossing the Atlantic and finding its way into the hands of readers who reveled in the American poet’s celebration of freedom, democracy, and unfettered love.
Inspired by Whitman, and despite terrible dangers he faced in doing so, Symonds kept trying, stubbornly, to find a way to express his message—that love and sex between men were not “morbid” and deviant, but natural and even ennobling.
He persisted in various genres his entire life. He wrote a strikingly honest secret memoir—which he embargoed for a generation after his death—enclosing keys to a code that the author had used to embed hidden messages in his published work. He wrote the essay A Problem in Modern Ethics that was secretly shared in his lifetime and would become foundational to our modern understanding of human sexual orientation and of LGBTQ+ legal rights. This essay is now rightfully understood as one of the first gay rights manifestos in the English language.
Dr. Naomi Wolf’s Outrages is a critically important book, not just for its role in helping to bring to new audiences the story of an oft-forgotten pioneer of LGBTQ+ rights who could not legally fully tell his own story in his lifetime. It is also critically important for what the book has to say about the vital and often courageous roles of publishers, booksellers, and freedom of speech in an era of growing calls for censorship and ever-escalating state violations of privacy. With Outrages, Wolf brings us the inspiring story of one man’s refusal to be silenced, and his belief in a future in which everyone would have the freedom to love and to speak without fear.
About Nonfiction Writer and Feminist Activist Dr. Naomi Wolf
Dr. Naomi Wolf’s most recent books include the New York Times best sellers Vagina, Give Me Liberty, and The End of America, as well as the landmark best seller The Beauty Myth. She completed a doctorate in English Language and Literature from the University of Oxford in 2015 and has taught at The George Washington University and Stony Brook University. Wolf lives in New York City.