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Wayne R. Dynes (born August 23, 1934) is an American art historian, encyclopedist, bibliographer, and gay activist. He is now Professor Emeritus in the Art Department at Hunter College, where he taught from 1972
Dynes spent his early years in Southern California, attending public schools. Notoriously, the 1950s were an era of conformity framed by the Cold War, but Dynes escaped the full effects of the stifling atmosphere for this reason: his parents were ideological mavericks, members of a far-left political sect. Although he broke with this Stalinist allegiance when he was fourteen (aided by his readings of George Orwell and Arthur Koestler), his formative years left him with an abiding skepticism about “politics as usual.”
As it happened, his personal refuge lay in the arts, which he explored first in the field of literary studies, and then (when he discovered the field as an undergraduate in 1953) art history.
After extended sojourns in Italy and England, Wayne Dynes settled permanently in Manhattan, New York City. He obtained his B.A. at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1956; his Ph.D. at the Institute of Fine Arts (IFA) of New York University in 1969. To this day, his greatest intellectual debt is owed to the German-Jewish teachers he had the good fortune of studying with in New York (Richard Krautheimer, Karl Lehmann, and Erwin Panofsky) and London (Ernst Hans Gombrich and Karl Popper). From these teachers he learned to cast the widest possible net in research, ever recalling the need for skepticism about the conventional wisdom and current fashions.
The subject of his art-history dissertation (1969) was an eleventh-century illuminated Bible from Belgium. Having had virtually no exposure to religion as a child, he determined to make up for the lack, flirting for a time with becoming a Roman Catholic. While the relationship remained unconsummated (he is now glad to say), the newly acquired knowledge proved useful during his forty years of college teaching, first at Columbia University, then at Hunter College (CUNY), where his specialty was medieval art.
Having spent many years in the classroom expounding the cultural contributions of the monotheistic religions (which are indeed real), in his retirement Dynes decided to explore the other side of the medal, that is to say, the negativity that the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have bequeathed to Western civilization. The results of this inquiry, sometimes iconoclastic and eviscerating, are summarized at
During the 1960s Dynes was a member of the Mattachine Society of New York (MSNY). He was in Europe at the time of the Stonewall Uprising in Greenwich Village in June of 1969. After returning, he collaborated with his close friend Jack Stafford, a librarian, on a basic bibliography of gay studies, a project sponsored by Barbara Gittings. Ultimately, his dedication to this task yielded his tome Homosexuality: A Research Guide (New York: Garland, 1987). An electronic copy of this work, together with other contributions by Dynes, may be consulted at the excellent web site maintained by Dr. Erwin Haeberle at the Archive for Sexology, Humboldt University, Berlin:
. This accomplishment led to Dynes’ service as editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (New York: Garland, 1990). A major achievement, this two-volume set ranks as the first work of its kind. It garnered six major awards, including three from library organizations.
For a number of years Wayne Dynes was active in the Gay Academic Union, editing and publishing its periodical The Cabirion (also known as Gay Books Bulletin). As a gay scholar he has been sharply critical of the Social Construction and Queer Theory trends.
Since 2004 Dynes has conducted his own eclectic blog
. This site offers links to his other blogs, such as
Now retired, Wayne R. Dynes continues to live and work on the West Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood said to rank as one of the last redoubts of the struggling American left. A self-described “libertarian with sanity,” Dynes prefers to march to the rhythm of a different drummer.
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