by John Corvino
In my last column I reflected on the fifteen-year anniversary of my lecture “What’s Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?” This year marks another anniversary for me: five years as a columnist for Between The Lines.
It all began when I was still a temporary lecturer (not tenure-track) at Wayne State. In a campus coffee shop I recognized BTL columnist Charles Alexander. Charles was taller than I expected, which in hindsight is funny, since a frequent comment from readers who meet me is “I expected you to be taller.” (What? Do I write like a tall person?)
I introduced myself, and Charles invited me to join him at his table for coffee and chitchat. Our chance encounters became regular, and during one of them Charles suggested that I contribute something to the paper. I initially demurred. “I’m a philosophy professor,” I explained. “I don’t know anything about newspaper writing.”
But then a specific assignment was offered: the Catholic Church’s pedophile scandal was erupting, and BTL wanted someone who could provide rigorous yet sensitive commentary. Charles knew that I had been a candidate for the priesthood, so he recommended me. I sent a column, they ran it, people liked it. Then another assignment came. A bi-weekly column was born. (The name “The Gay Moralist” came much later, after the failed early name “Think About It” and then years of running the column without one.)
The early columns manifested both my training as an academic and my lack of training as a journalist. The paragraphs were excruciatingly long, and you could tell I was just bursting to throw in footnotes. (I still have a habit of too many parenthetical asides, like this one.)
Slowly, with the guidance of Charles and other journalists, I developed what writers call “a voice.” My columns generally fell under one of the following five broad headings (some favorite examples are in parentheses):
1) philosophical commentary on some current political or social event ( “The Inclusive Santorum,” “Habemus Papam”)
2) moral arguments on homosexuality presented in layperson’s terms (“Who Decides?,” “Polygamy Illogic Strikes Again”)
3) funny personal anecdotes (“The Gay Song,” “Middle-Upper-Thirties Musings”)
4) notes from my travels (“Angry Lesbians and Right-Wing Nutcases,” “Homosexy in China”)
5) homeland defense (“Detroit Pride Begins at Home,” “Loving Detroit”)
Yes, I recycle themes and examples, though never full columns. (You try coming up with a completely original theme every two weeks for five years.) Call it literary environmentalism.
In the years I’ve written at BTL there have been a number of changes in my life, many of them chronicled in these pages. My relationship with Mark progressed from dating to (virtual) marriage. I’ve built a career speaking and debating. I’ve traveled overseas. I lost an ex-partner to AIDS, two grandmothers to old age, and a dear friend to suicide. I got tenure-tracked, then recently tenured, at Wayne State.
For complex reasons, it is uncertain how long I will continue as a regular columnist at BTL. So let me take this opportunity to express my gratitude to some people.
First and foremost, to my readers, without whom I’d have no point here. The relationship between writers and readers is a strange one: I’m speaking to you, but I don’t know you; you may feel you know me, but you’ve (typically) never met me. Apparently, at 5’8″, I’m shorter than you think.
To Charles, for his early confidence and ongoing support.
To my various managing editors, for largely leaving my text alone. (I haven’t been so lucky elsewhere, as hack editors with tin ears change not only my wording but also my intended meaning.)
To the bookkeeping department, which never fails to pay BTL’s writers promptly and consistently. Such virtue is sadly quite rare in this business. I’ve had editors at major papers steal my work or take months (or longer) to issue checks. Thankfully, I have other sources of income, so I can tell such editors where to go. Other budding journalists who fear being “blacklisted” don’t have such freedom, and they become easy targets for exploitation. Between The Lines is a shining counterexample to this sort of abuse.
Finally, to Susan Horowitz and Jan Stevenson, publishers extraordinaire, for their tireless commitment to producing a top-notch regional LGBT newsweekly. Yes, the paper has its flaws. There are typos; there are indexing mistakes; there are occasional pieces that fall flat. But I challenge you to find an operation that pound for pound does better. I’m proud that it’s been my literary home for five years.