Open Letter by Winston A. Howlett Regarding His Review of "Alternative: Epilog to Orion"

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Open Letter
Title: no official title
From: Winston A. Howlett
Addressed To:
Date(s): 1976-1977
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
Topic: Alternative: Epilog to Orion, slash, zines
External Links:
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In 1976, Winston A. Howlett wrote a review of the zine Alternative: Epilog to Orion and published it in Probe #9 in August 1976.

It generated much reaction, both in his own zine, and in other zines. The controversy was one reason several of the contributors to "Probe" left the zine and asked to be disassociated with it.

For a similar rant in 1996 by a zine ed, see GARBAGE LIKE THAT HAS NO PLACE IN FANDOM.

Howlett's Review of "Alternative: Epilog to Orion" (1976)

There are a couple of 'adult' Trekzines making the rounds these days that the producers are putting in covers that intentionally resemble plain, brown wrappers. From what I have heard of the contents, this kind of treatment would seem very appropriate. However, this one should have been wrapped in a Hefty Garbage Bag. Not to malign the appearance of this zine. Its pearl-gray pages, pleasant typeface, and interesting layout make it a nice-looking little one-shot. The artwork -- such as it is -- is competent and helps get the story's point across very adequately. And not to malign the structure of the writing. This literary effort has a plethora of love poetry which -- if it were written from a man to a woman, or vice versa -- would be some of the best writing in fanfic today. But the stuff is written from Kirk to Spock, and from Spock to Kirk, leaving us with the subject matter that I must take to task: homosexuality. 'Orion' is a story in Ms. Downe's zine 'Stardate: Unknown.' I have not read it yet, but some of my colleagues refer to it as an 'almost get-Kirk tale,' leaving our dear Captain in a psychological state that Mr. Spock sees as an opportunity to take his best friend in to a 'new and deeper relationship.' The result? 'Alternative' or 'Kirk and Spock Go Gay.' According to some of the latest social mores, 'Gay is Good' (Sorry, friend, not in this part of the galaxy), so I guess this type of literary exploration coming aboveground is inevitable. In fact, I hear that other zine writers are working on similar ideas. Fasten your seat belts and pass the Bromo[1]; I think we are in for a rough literary season. The interior artwork of 'Alternative' is mostly simple line drawings, but they help greatly in removing any pretensions about where this work belongs: in a Times Square smut shop. I mean to cast no dispersions upon the author/artist. I truly wish her well... and hope she stays away from the scene where Uhura kissed Christine in 'What Are Little Girls Made of?' [2]

Reaction and Responses to The Review

Two Letters by Fans That Howlett Received and Printed in "Probe" #10 (1977)

In Probe #10 (which Howlett called "The War Issue" due to the topics of the fiction included, and two the controversy his essay stirred up), Howlett printed two letters by fans who addressed his views. In Probe #10's editorial, he wrote: ""Feedback" concludes the war against mistaken ideas (like the Winston-Howlett-hates-gay-people lie)."

I was impressed with "Mutant Mingle" in PROBE (9). David Kesztenbaum has a lot to say about bigotry and gets his point across. It shows a great deal of concern for those who are different from ourselves. Hatred can only lead to the destruction of both sides.

"Death of a Vulcan", though a bit melodramatic, has a black man as the main character. Of course racism is on its way out. Sexism in all its worse forms is not, at least "friend, not in this part of the galaxy." It seems that mutants are OK, fags belong in Hefty Garbage Bags. Don't ever print "Gay Mingle", let the Gay Killers cut them down. Don't beat up the blacks, get the fags.

Now, you can pass me the Bromo. I may not be homosexual or even bisexual, but at least I have guts enough to own my feelings and not turn them into bigotry aimed at the fairies. Not too long ago about five high school football players beat a man to death because he was a queer. They were given a short time on probation for murder.[3] That is bigotry, hate, injustice, and discrimination all rolled into one. But I don't suppose that happens where you come from. One more group of human beings is asking to be given the right to exist without persecution just as the mutants and blacks and Jews and Christians. The list is long and it is not ended.

Yes, some fanzines have published sex stories and homosexual stories. I for one hope they are never censored. You, and any one else who objects to the content, are not forced to read it. It was not written for you in the first place. You can go on having love scenes that almost happen.

If you have guts enough to face the issue try Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown, published by Daughters, Inc., Plainfield, Vermont. Read all of it. And when you get finished if you don't feel moved, you can turn in your humanity and forget the word compassion. [4]

Despite the much improved printing, layout and artwork of PROBE 9, I am uncertain whether or not to renew my subscription to PROBE when the current one runs out. The reason for this problem is the sheer irony of following an anti-bigotry story, "Mutant Mingle", with such an incredibly bigoted review you gave to Gerry Downe's ALTERNATIVE. Never before have I seen such blatant bigotry, ignorance and hysteria paraded in what purports to be a STAR TREK fanzine.

Whatever your own attitudes toward homosexuals and bisexuals may be — and from your tone I take it that you think they should be shot on sight — you have no right to claim that a serious discussion of the subject "belongs in a Times Square smut shop". The Supreme Court made the topic legitimate several years ago, for any work of 'redeeming social, political or artistic importance' — which ALTERNATIVE certainly has. You admit, yourself, that "the competent" and that the poetry "would be some of the best writing in fanfic today" — but only "if it were written from a man to woman, or vice versa"! You admittedly condemn good art because of its subject — and if that isn't bigotry, what the hell do you think it is?

Nowhere in the review do you offer one shred of excuse for your position; you claim that ALTERNATIVE is bad because it discusses a same-sex affair, and homosexual activity is bad because you say it is. Do you mind explaining, for the benefit of your apparently-ignorant audience, just why homosexuality is so terrible? After all, it doesn't add to the population problem, doesn't kill or rob anyone, is not (as even the A.M.A. agrees) evidence of any mental disorder, does not spread diseases or lend itself to neurotic relationships anymore than heterosexuality does. What — besides' a hysterical fear that some man might make a pass at you someday — makes you react to the subject with such senseless outrage?

Let me point out that nearly everyone, sometime in his/her life, has some sort of homosexual experience. According to the first Kinsey report, published in 1931, 51% of all males reported having had at least one homosexual experience to the point of orgasm before 21 years of age — and that's just the ones who would admit it, 1931! What do you think the real figure is, today? In a more advanced, less-restrictive society, such as shown in STAR TREK, there's no good reason why Kirk and Spock shouldn't be lovers... after all, they do love each other. If, as you say, "'gay is good'...not in this part of the galaxy" then "this part of the galaxy" can only refer to the 5 1/2%. cubic feet of air in which you stand. [5]

Winston's Response to the Two Letters Printed in "Probe" #10 (1977)

The open letter Howlett wrote in response to the backlash he'd received was printed in Probe #10 and was over five-pages, single-spaced.

These two letters [by Jerry W. C. and Leslie Fish] were printed because they were the most vehement ones on the subject. And they were printed in this order because they get First Prize and Second Prize for Most Hysterical respectively.

Now, I will take off my asbestos gloves and give my response:

And now that I have also washed out of my mouth the words that the two of you tried to put in it, let me first say that I am not prejudiced against homosexuals. Whatever else they are, they are first people: they are born like anybody else, they laugh, cry, want, need, and die like anybody else. If you would come down off your great white horses and carefully read what I wrote, I said that I took issue against ALTERNATIVE'S subject matter: Homosexuality. Not the people, but the condition...or should I say the disorder, because that is exactly what it is.

I have no authority (in myself) to make such a statement. I am merely quoting from a very high-ranking authority on the subject: the God who made us.

According to His Word, homosexuality is an abomination,[6] and not what the sexual aspects of the human body were made for.

Perhaps someone's response might be, That's ridiculous! If God made us, then he gave homosexuals their homosexuality!"

No, He did not. He permitted it to happen; Satan puts infirmities in us and on us, not God.[7] But God knows that if we were all born perfect, we would have no need to come to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ…

The proper term for me is "Born-again Christian". The term 'born again' means to let Jesus Christ into your heart and let Him change you — from the inside out — into the kind of God wants you to be. Religion seeks to change a person from the outside in, with secular garments for the body, and taking in of knowledge through our five senses. It may have some therapeutic value, but God says, "It is not enough!" All the high aspirations, strivings for racial brotherhood and living by IDIC to help make a STAR TREK world are not enough to get us through our day-to-day living. We all claim to love God, right? Well, God says, "If you love me, keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:6). One of those commandments is to love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us.

Well, by ourselves, we can't do that. Not one of us, including me. All it takes is for someone to hurt us enough, and we want to punch his lights out, or go get a shotgun and literally blow him away. The only thing stopping us is the fear of getting caught….

As Captain Kirk said in Where No Man Has Gone Before, each of us has a dark side, a part of us that we dare not expose. And in that dark realm dwells our hatreds, prejudices, petty jealousies, lusts, and a lot of other things that prevent us from being the kind of people God wants us to be….

...Some time ago, two of my sisters were to sing at a wedding in Harlem. The bride and groom were friends of theirs, born-again Christians… [much about the intensity of this wedding snipped]… ...Back home and several hours later, I finally got around to asking my mother why the Spirit was so particularly powerful at that wedding. "Oh, you didn't hear?" she smiled. "Before the bride gave her heart to God, she was a lesbian." All I could do was stand there and marvel at the power of God through His Son and say, "Wow…"… That wedding was over a year and a half ago. The last I heard, that marriage still going strong, and that woman is now a mother.

Some would point out that a lot of churches today are accepting homosexuals into their congregations, have them on the executive boards, indeed, even pastoring. My answer to that is "Yes! Of course the churches are accepting them. They have no choice!" All they have been preaching is "Love God, and remember that all men are brothers." And then along comes Gay Lib, saying, "Well, we're your brothers, so you gotta let us in and accept us, just as we are!" And the churches have to; with little or nothing about Salvation or what God can do in people's lives in their personal knowledge or experience, how could they do otherwise? They love God, they fear God, they worship God...but all they have is a religion. And no religion on earth — NONE — can. take homosexuality out of a person. That is what I find so fascinating about Gay Lib: it creates a put-up-or-shut-up situation in churches. If they do not have the strength or power of Christ's Salvation to put up as their shield, they have to shut up and give in, even though they full well know God is not pleased. God did not set down laws against homosexuality, have His Son's disciples preach against homosexuality, destroy two whole cities because of homosexuality, and then look down and say, "All right. Now, I think I'll sit back and wait for Man to progress to the twentieth century, when I'll repeal my laws," What He did say was 'I am the Lord, I change not!'[8] and Christ said, 'Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.'[9] And God does not subscribe to the A.M.A. Journal, wait for Supreme Court rulings, or read Kinsey Reports.

Jerry, you have stated here — and you, Leslie, in other places — that I am ignorant of the true nature of The Gay World. Well, I have not read 'Rubyfruit Jungle', but I can say that I believe I've read more on the subjects of homosexuality, transexualism, and transvestism than the two of you put together.. And I'm talking about the full strata: the psychological discourses, interviews, fiction (mostly written by these people about themselves and each other), court rulings... I know the subcultural language and slang terms, the gay social rules of behaviour...and a few things that would surprise you...

No, Leslie, I am not terrified of being propositioned by a man. But I have an 11-year-old brother, and I have a distant fear of him one day being trapped in a room with a desperately lonely full grown male, who might take a liking to my brother...and not take "No" for an answer. (And don't try to tell me that this doesn't happen, because we both know that it does.[10]

That is why I disliked ALTERNATIVE so much. It is not a discussion of homosexuality. It is a pearl-papered, beautifully-written, nicely-illustrated con job, giving the image of "Oh, look how interesting homosexuality is. See. it's harmless, and benign, and perfectly natural. There's nothing wrong with it."

That is a LIE!

Other Reactions: 1977-78

From a zine editor in spring 1977:

…if you are following this tempest in our teapot, Winston's reply to letters attacking his "review" of ALTERNATIVE. The review was not a review but an attack, and the reply is a fine example of what happens when you let yourself think with your convictions instead of your intellect." [11]

A fan in February 1977:

…Regarding the review of "Alternative: The Epilog to Orion", I agree with you — in a way. To clarify that statement, can we really judge the 23rd century by the morals and ideals of the 20th? And I read Leslie Fish's "Shelter" in WARPED SPACE #20. The theme is identical, yet the treatment, is quite dissimilar. It's beautiful, enjoyable, lyrical, and all sorts of descriptive phrases. I loved it! [12]

A fan in February 1978:

Re Leslie Fish's letter in PROBE 10: I, for one, consider her position on the Kirk/Spock relationship totally indefensible. "In a more advanced, less-restrictive society...there's no good reason why Kirk and Spock shouldn't be lovers...after all, they do love each other." Why, I might ask, does she find it necessary in "Shelter" to explain Spock's childhood dilemmas — Amanda as the tempting, forbidden human woman? Why does she find it necessary to provide psychological 'justification' for a homosexual Kirk/Spock relationship? If there's nothing 'wrong' with such a relationship, except our current social mores, why does Fish see the need to demonstrate Spock's psychological illness? I think that self-contradictory testimony would be inadmissible in a court of law. Besides, the implications of her statement are obvious: normal, heterosexual men cannot truly love each other because they cannot share a sexual experience. Aside from the fact that this is utter nonsense, it's far from the implication Roddenberry intended for the Kirk/Spock relationship. And tell it to Starsky and Hutch! (Not to mention all men who are mutual friends.)

Re [Jerry C's] letter: unless the "Nebula" column in his PROBE 9 is a totally different column than the one in my copy, his vehement accusations about your position on homosexuality ("let the Gay Killers cut them down", he claims you practically said) are absolutely and completely unjustified. I didn't see where you said — or implied — any such thing! I could spit tacks! And I think the fact that you didn't do the same in print was (very) mature of you.

[Howlett's printed response]: Thank you for your kind comment about The Gay Question, Brenda. I only wish your letter had been about four months earlier, when the argument got to be very heavy and very depressing. [13]

In April/May 1978, Linda Deneroff announced:

I have resigned from the staff of Probe as you read this. Normally, such a statement is not necessary, but since Winston Howlett lists me as a staff person, I feel compelled to announce this resignation. I find myself in editorial disagreement with Winston on several issues, but since he makes no disclaimer in his zine to the effect that the editorial opinions are solely his own and not that of his staff, one could easily get the impression that we all agree. Winston and I will continue to be friends, but I will henceforth not be associated with 'Probe' fanzine or M'Pingo Press. [14]

Much Later Reactions

[1999]: Somewhere, I am not sure if I still have it or not, I got a genzine written around that time which just BLASTS Gerry Downes' "Alternative, Epilogue to Orion" There is a nine (if I remember correctly) page diatribe against it and against homosexuality in general. If I had been Gerry at that time, I would have been very worried that that person was going to come after me. Very scary. [15]


  1. ^ Winston is referring to Bromo-Seltzer, an over-the-counter pain reliever/antacid/mild sedative which has been around since 1890, albeit reformulated to remove the sodium bromide sedative that gave it its name, and the acetelinide pain reliever, both of which were toxic. It originally came in an attractive blue glass bottle much prized by collectors. Older readers may remember the word "bromide" meaning a cliche'd proverb or message that is obvious and not that helpful, like "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." People said "take a Bromo" as today we'd say "take a chill pill." Today's Bromo has acetominophen and sodium bicarbonate.
  2. ^ from Probe #9
  3. ^ This is a reference to the murder of Richard J. Heakin on June 6, 1976, in Tucson, Arizona. The murder inspired changes in city laws as well as increased recognition of the LGBT community.
  4. ^ from an LoC by Jerry W. C. in Probe #10
  5. ^ from an LoC by Leslie Fish in Probe #10
  6. ^ Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. 1st Corinthians 6:9-11. Romans 1:26-27.
  7. ^ Luke 13:10-16, Jesus claimed a disabled woman he healed had been "bound by Satan" for eighteen years.
  8. ^ Malachi 3:6.
  9. ^ Matthew 24:35, Luke 21:33.
  10. ^ Howlett is possibly referring to Walter Breen or to Ed Kramer, both convicted child molesters whose pedophilia had been an open secret in regular SF and fantasy fandom for many years. As a Christian devotee, he might also have been aware of pedophile clergy, by no means limited to the Catholic Church.
  11. ^ from the editor of R & R #3 (spring 1977)
  12. ^ from an LoC by Sandra Gent in Probe #10
  13. ^ from an LoC in Probe #12
  14. ^ from Scuttlebutt #6 (April/May 1978), a personal statement from Linda Deneroff announcing that she will no longer be associated with Probe
  15. ^ comment on a private K/S mailing list, quoted anonymously (September 7, 1999)