Since I’ve started my mini-Zora tribute this month, I’ve discovered a rumor that is circulating on the Internet that Zora Neale Hurston was gay. And just like the morals charge that helped to ruin her career, it’s an insidious and unfounded story that I’d hate to see grow legs.
A Google search yields all the wrong answers. Anonymous websites such as Answers.com say: “Yes, she was.” The GLBTHistoryMonth website actually claims her as one of their icons! I don’t know how they can know more than any of her biographers or other Hurston scholars. In fact, Alice Walker writes (remember her, the one who re-discovered Hurston) in Robert Hemenway’s seminal Literary Biography that the story was an invention probably borne in the mouths of her jealous, misogynistic peers and critics who were uncomfortable that Zora was “into the Blackness.”
Zora was funny, irreverent, (she was the first to call the Harlem Renaissance literati the “niggerati”), good-looking and sexy…They disliked her apparent sensuality: the way she tended to marry or not marry men, but enjoyed them anyway, while never missing a beat in her work. They hinted slyly that Zora was gay, or at least bisexual–how else could they account for her drive?–though there is not a shred of evidence that this was true. The accusation becomes humorous–and, of course, at all times irrelevant–when one considers that what she did write about was some of the most healthily rendered heterosexual loving in our literature… With her easy laughter and her Southern drawl, her belief in doing cullud dancing authentically, Zora seemed–among these genteel “New Negroes” of the Harlem Renaissance–black.
Zora seemed continually disappointed by love. It turns out she had a third husband, one whom apparently not even her friends and family knew about. Husband No. 2, Albert Price, was 25 years her junior (like Janie and Tea Cake). Her last husband was several years younger, too. Ironically, since Zora never told the truth about her age, those men probably never knew the true age gap.
None of the marriages lasted long. She was too quixotic and a wanderer, perhaps too independent, insecure or self-absorbed, to work at a relationship. It’s likely that the trauma of her father’s abandonment and neglect after her mother’s death left its scars. But her relationship pattern was to marry, then leave her husbands behind within months to pursue the next project or assignment. Things were rarely copacetic when she returned — if she returned. By my math, she lived with all three husbands less than five years total.
But she liked men and even in her 50s (her real age, not what she told the world) admitted to being on the prowl. In a letter to Carl Van Vechten, she assures him that her relationship with her roommate at the time was platonic but writes saucily about his sex habits.
No, I have not tried any of it, but it must be good, because he has mobs of girls running after him all the time. And I know Fred well enough to know that he loses no time with women unless he is getting some. I have not bothered to try it because I am going off with him, and it could cause a lot of trouble in the end. Besides there will be lots of men down there (in Honduras) too, and I am liable to run up on something that suits.
The lady knew how to turn a phrase. The latest biography, Wrapped in Rainbows, won’t get here until next week. Valerie Boyd may have uncovered more information in the intervening years. But for now, this is my story and I’m sticking to it.
- Zora Neale Hurston, Girl Detective (themillions.com)
- New Fiction Discovered From Zora Neale Hurston (theroot.com)