Illustration of a man and a woman embracing

A Streetcar Named Desire

by Tennessee Williams

Start Free Trial

Regarding Tennessee Williams, the author of A Streetcar Named Desire, what would it have been like to be homosexual in his lifetime? Was homosexuality legal anywhere?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Tennessee Williams is renowned as a playwright. Not only was he known for his plays (such as A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), he wrote two novels and multiple short stories and poems. A known homosexual, Williams' works sometimes included elements true to his own life (such as homosexual allusions, alcoholism, and mental instability included in A Streetcar Named Desire).

As for living as a homosexual male during his life (1911-1983), Williams faced much turmoil in his romantic relationships. Tired of burying his true sexuality, Williams accepted his homosexuality when in his late twenties. In an interview with Mel Gussow, Williams admitted that he did not really make the decision to accept his sexuality; instead, it was made for him. "Promiscuity is better than nothing. It was a period of loneliness." After many different partners, Williams finally found a lasting partner in Frank Merlo. After fourteen years of the relationship, the two parted ways. Merlo died of in 1963 with Williams by his side.

As tumultuous as Williams' sexual past may have been, it was nothing compared to the societal views of homosexuality. When Williams accepted his homosexuality in the 1930s, American society had decided to return to its conservative roots. Many states were beginning to declare homosexuality illegal, and homosexuals were defined as being mentally ill. This continued throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

It was not until the 1960s that homosexuality in the public eye began to change. Illinois was the first state to decriminalize homosexuality in 1961-1962. The many American states (including Florida, Texas, and Virgina) decriminalized homosexuality in 2003. Following the lead of the United States of America, the military decriminalized homosexuality in 2011.

As for living as a homosexual in his time, Williams would have been faced with ostracization, shame (based upon lack of public acceptance), and secrecy. This said, although Williams tended to be very open about his sexuality, one can assume that his was stereotyped as the typical author--eccentric, mentally unstable, and dependant upon drugs. This may have allowed Williams to live a life very different from other homosexuals.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial