Gayness was invented in America. That’s the thought that slowly formed in my mind while perusing the show “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the National Portrait Gallery in D.C. I’m not saying that America invented homosexuality, of course. That goes a little further back. What America did was to give gayness its specific difference, to make “gay” into an identity you could have publicly like any other.

“Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” Through February 13, 2011. National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

“Hide/Seek” begins its American story, as is appropriate, with Walt Whitman. Walt was, after all, the great bard of American self-invention. If there was a new identity to be tried, Walt was ready to sing its praises. It has been speculated that Whitman had a more than passing interest in… More…

You might think a 2,300-year-old sex scandal would eventually lose some of its bite. But when it comes to paragons of masculinity such as world conqueror Alexander the Great, it doesn’t. With his 2004 film Alexander, writer-director Oliver Stone outraged stiff-necked military types with his depiction of the macho Macedonian king, history’s most brilliant warrior, flirting with his boyfriends up and down the Khyber Pass. In between gore-splattered battles, Alexander (played by Colin Farrell) flounces about in makeup at drunken Babylonian banquets, shoots suggestive glances to his male entourage, and indulges in a passionate kiss with one of his officers — all the sort of behavior that would be frowned upon in the U.S. military today, for example. But according to Paul Cartledge, professor of Classics at Cambridge University, the film is actually very coy about Alexander’s busy homoerotic life: There is no real doubt that he took a young… More…