Defiance is Necessary for the Soul: Celebrating Alan Turing’s Upcoming 107th birthday.

[Thinking especially today about the migrants being tortured in our own US concentration camps, which also includes LGBTQ migrants. Please donate to RAICES if you can in Alan’s memory. .Did you know Alan himself sponsored a Jewish refugee from Austria?]

Got to be frank here. I didn’t see the Alan Turing biopic. I just couldn’t. I’ve been an Alan Turing fan since 1984, when I first learned about him (and ELIZA, featured in the novel), in a summer camp computer class. I had a second resurgence in Alan appreciation in about 2005 somewhere between reading Cryptonomicon and getting a brain orgasm listening to two Cambridge lectures about the Enigma and Bletchley Park. I had a third run with Alan in 2013, when during a period of suicidal depression that lasted months, the only thing that helped besides acupuncture was reading over and over again how he broke the Enigma (and a few select stories of other WWII heroes who also made it into the novel).

So when the movie came out I told people I couldn’t see it because I was sure they’d get the math wrong about how he solved it. Which, apparently it did. But what I also found out that the movie also misrepresented his personality. His relatives were really upset. (This is why, in my novel, I have taken special care when portraying anyone who is either alive or has living relatives, something that Bernard Malamud ran into trouble with once) It also denied him his full sexuality, making it a reveal (really?), blowing up the Joan Clarke engagement (and getting her personality wrong too — Joan was a super brilliant and lovely lady, and if you want see what she was really like– an INTP like Alan, check out the documentary Codebreaker.) Although I think the movie’s false claim that Alan was a security risk probably would have hurt him the most.

I really am so grateful to Hodges who wrote an incredible Alan biography, and I also loved his book on numbers, but he doesn’t get Alan right either (Alan did not take up running for the reason he gives — I speak as a lifelong lover of running who comes from three-generations of runners– and he desperately does want a full-blown intimate relationship as documented by a letter Alan wrote that Hodges did not know about) and includes details that I think are an invasion of his privacy, though very useful to my novel research. Alan is not an enigma in the slightest, at least not to anyone with the blessing and curse of living on the Autistic spectrum. The art of biography is really such a tough thing to pull off. Hodges is a rock star in my view, but his forte is math, science, and philosophy, coupled with a delightful gay sensitivity, a huge strength that I’m sure Alan really appreciates, rather than the deepest understanding of human nature, or at least Alan’s nature.

Calling him a man-boy, as Hodges does, is both true and not true. He had a pure and innocent spirit but he was a grown-up in the best possible way, as described by the great Erich Kästner, winner of the Hans-Christian-Anderson medal and the person who wrote the German original of the incredible book that gave rise to all those Parent Trap movies, which are fun (the subtley of Lindsay Lohan’s use of accents is stupendous in the reboot) but nothing like his masterpiece, Das doppelte Lottchen. “Most people cast aside their childhood as if it were an old hat. They expunge from their memory as if it were a telephone number that is no longer any good. Earlier they were children, then they become adults, but what are they now? Only someone who has grown up and remains a child is a true human– Nur wer erwachsen wird und Kind bliebt, ist ein Mensch!.” Harvey Milk likewise never lost his own child-like joy as the guy who would build his lover a snowman.

[I stopped reading Alan and Harvey biographies after a certain point. So while I haven’t read Lillian Faderman’s Jewish take on Harvey, I have found her other work highly impressive and have every confidence in its excellence. If she or any one who has read the book could tell me what Harvey’s Hebrew name was, if he was Cohen, Levi, or Israel and if he had a Bar-Mitzvah, I would be grateful. I also did not read the biography of Alan by his nephew Dermot, which has the benefit of being written someone who knew and loved him. And if Hodges or Dermot can verify exactly when Alan had Timothy as his cat companion that would help with my future stories. Reading about Alan in the third person hurts too much for me now to even to read the recent NYT obit.

I did read the biography by Alan’s mother {Ethel] Sara Turing and while there are things a son will keep from his mother, I actually really liked it and learned so much from it. I am incredibly grateful to Sara for doing this for the world, and writing with a grief one can only understand if one has also lost a son to suicide. I want to respond to the claim of Alan’s brother John in the current intro that Alan “loathed” his mother based on what he has written and his dreams. I think the situation was far more complex, and we know from one of Alan’ last letters that he was getting on much better with her and she was even willing to learn more about what it was like to be gay.]

Here’s what I want you know about Alan as his 107th birthday comes up. I’ve already written that portaying him as a pitiful victim is not the way he (or anyone else) should be remembered. It is very important that people who have undergone trauma share their stories (more about this soon) for their own sake and because, as in Alan’ case, the world needs to understand the trauma of our beautiful queer people on this planet. But in my novel, I try to give Alan a voice, to tell his own story, not seeking pity, but simply because he desperately wants to understand his experience, so he can move on and love his Harvey without anything holding him back.

Please donate to RAICES if you can in Alan’s memory.

First, I want you to know that Alan was a sweetheart, a kind, beautiful man with boundless compassion. Yes, he did make his student Robin Gandy cry over his harsh critiques. But he didn’t do so because of being mean, because he thought that the feedback was the way to help. I think that as Alan got older (he was so young when he left us!) he would have learned to tone it down. I myself had to learn this lesson and I want to apologize now to the two people I hurt in the past doing the same thing.

Second, I want you to know that Alan was NOT in the closet. Though not out to his family (for very understandable reasons), he was out to his friends and colleagues, which was a huge thing in the 1940s or earlier. Don’t ever forget, either, that he told Joan he was gay after he proposed. You just have to watch the first episode of Grace and Frankie to appreciate the amazingness of this. You have to appreciate his decision not to marry her as an act of grace. There was so much pressure to marry then and Harvey himself thought about marrying a lesbian. Alan loved to parade his homosexuality (his words). This brings us to the topic of Defiance, which is also the name of a great Holocaust movie (didn’t see it, but read the book it’s based on).

I want you to know that Alan knew that not expressing his love with his body was a greater danger to his soul than death, something that Harvey would talk about later. That’s why he defied the British Anti-Love laws. That’s why he was completely open about his relationship with Arnold Murray. That’s why he was defiant to the end throughout his period of arrest, jail, and torture. That’s why he defied the British government that didn’t let him leave the country and headed to Norway, in search of a place where men danced with men. That led to yet another trauma, and that, with what came before was horrific for him. Alan Turing did not die by suicide. He died by slow execution — on the installment plan, as it were.

In my novel, I project that Alan forgives Arnold (whom I really cannot like at all, sorry living relatives) and Great Britain. Why do I think so? Because I think Defiance is the necessary first step to Forgiveness.

There’s a lot a talk on survivor forums about Forgiveness. And I agree that it is the survivor’s right to never forgive. Each soul must decide what is right for them. If you will never forgive your perp, that may be exactly perfect for you. In my novel, Harvey is not ready to forgive Dan. I mean the man shot him in cold blood just months before. When. you’ve been murdered or otherwise abused, your first order of business is tending to you, not feeling compassion for the perp.

But Harvey did the take first step in Forgiveness, which I think is the most huge. It is your willingness not to do like the narrator of Delia’s Gone as sung by the immortal Johnny Cash, grab a sub-machine, and make like Grace, played brilliantly by Nicole Kidman in Lars von Trier’s Dogville, who gives her gangster Daddy the order to decimate the town that exploited and raped her. Harvey does something incredible for Dan in the novel — this was something I knew in my heart he would do soon after I saw the Milk biopic in February 2009 in the Gay West End in St. Louis.

(The movie, for all the things it also gets wrong, is a very fitting tribute to Harvey–well done, team! — but you must see the documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk to fully get his amazing awesomeness and read all his actual writings and speeches too. The official bio on him is great for understanding the milieu and San Francisco politics but the biographer just didn’t get him fully. Mike Weiss, in contrast, author of Double-Play is super astute when it comes to human nature — so impressive, you rock Mike!– and that’s where you will get the best understanding of both Harvey and Dan.)

The second step in Forgiveness is not wishing something bad would happen to them. The third step in Forgiveness is not being happy when something bad does in fact happen to them (exposing them or them being exposed is not ‘something bad,’ — that’s just karma). If you can do these three steps to someone who was cruel, dare I say evil to you, you really don’t have to go any further. In fact, you can even do step one, and if you refuse to ever do to another what has been done you, you have done incredible work in stopping the chain of violence and do not have to go the “love your enemies” route in the slightest.

Forgiveness does not mean:

•Liking or loving them

*Ever contacting them again.

*You won’t bring them to justice.

*You won’t do everything in your power to stop them from hurting someone else.

•You won’t tell your story PUBLICLY.

This last one is really important. #Metoo has shown us the power and deep healing of telling our stories out in the open, something Harvey is so on board with. But I also think that telling our stories is actually good for the soul of the perpetrator. I’ll let you chew on that for a bit. And also here’s another thought: the more defiant you are towards those who oppress you, either during or afterwards, the easier it is to forgive, if that is right for you.

Please donate to RAICES if you can in Alan’s memory.

That’s why this novel insists on telling Harvey and Alan’s stories in their own voices. That is why, with my apologizes to the living relatives of both Harvey’s killer and Jack Lira, I must tell the full story because both of these men, for whom I have abundant compassion (and both of whom do get happy endings in my ultimate vision of their stories) have put Harvey through hell. Harvey must share these things if he is to be completely free of the trauma of both of them ( the Jack Lira trauma, which began years prior to his suicide, was probably the worst of the two) and if he is to be Alan’s lover without any barriers.

Of course we all are, or should be, lovers of Alan in the sense of cherishing and celebrating him. In the words of Johnny Cash again, “This year when I count my blessings, I’m thanking the Lord he made you.” Show your appreciation of what Alan has done and even more importantly, the kind of man he was, by honoring his courage, strength, and lovability, as well as engaging with his research and ideas.

Doing your bit for LGBTQ+ rights in whatever way possible and for the rights of all oppressed peoples that Harvey calls the Uses, would be lovely too.

LGBTQ Rights are Immigrant Rights. . Please donate to RAICES if you can in Alan’s memory. Happy Birthday to the immortal Turing who lives forever in our hearts and minds and in every computer or phone like the one you’re reading this on. Love on!

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