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#QueerQuote: ”I Haven’t Been Everywhere, but It’s on My List.” – Susan Sontag

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Photograph by Jill Krementz, PBS via YouTube

Susan Sontag (1933 – 2004) was a writer, filmmaker, philosopher, teacher, and political activist. She published her first major work, the essay Notes On ‘Camp’, in 1964. She was one of the most influential critics of her generation.

Sontag wrote about travelling to areas of conflict, including during the Vietnam War and the Siege of Sarajevo. She wrote extensively about photography, culture and media, AIDS and illness, human rights, and communism and leftist ideology.

Sontag had a close romantic relationship with photographer Annie Leibovitz. They met in early 1980s, when the both were already famous. During Sontag’s lifetime, neither woman publicly disclosed whether the relationship was a friendship or romance. The NY Times in 2009 referred to Sontag as Leibovitz’s “companion”. Leibovitz wrote in her book A Photographer’s Life (2006):

“Words like ‘companion’ and ‘partner’ were not in our vocabulary. We were two people who helped each other through our lives. The closest word is still ‘friend.'”

But later, Leibovitz said the word “lover” was accurate:

 “Call us ‘lovers’. I like ‘lovers.’ You know, ‘lovers’ sounds romantic. I mean, I want to be perfectly clear. I love Susan.”

Sontag lived with model Harriet Sohmers Zwerling from 1958 to 1959. Next, Sontag was the partner of María Irene Fornés, a Cuban-American playwright and director. After splitting with Fornes, she was involved with an Italian aristocrat, Carlotta Del Pezzo, and the German academic Eva Kollisch. During the early 1970s, Sontag lived with Nicole Stéphane, a Rothschild heiress who was a film actor, and choreographer Lucinda Childs. Sontag had affairs with gay male artists Jasper Johns and Paul Thek, and writer Joseph Brodsky. Yet, Leibovitz was Sontag’s longest relationship, lasting more than two decades.

Sontag was quite open about bisexuality:

”When you get older, 45 plus, men stop fancying you. Or put it another way, the men I fancy don’t fancy me. I want a young man. I love beauty. So, what’s new? I’ve been love nine times in my life. Five women, four men.”

Most of Sontag’s obituaries failed to mention her same-sex relationships, even Leibovitz.

Sontag:

“I grew up in a time when the modus operandi was the ‘open secret’. I’m used to that, and quite OK with it. Intellectually, I know why I haven’t spoken more about my sexuality, but I do wonder if I haven’t repressed something there to my detriment. Maybe I could have given comfort to some people if I had dealt with the subject of my private sexuality more, but it’s never been my prime mission to give comfort, unless somebody’s in drastic need. I’d rather give pleasure or shake things up.”

Sontag died in NYC in 2004. She was 71-years-old, taken by Leukemia. She is buried in Paris at Cimetière du Montparnasse


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