Recent discussions of Langston Hughes in criticism and in classrooms make quick claims about his sexuality. Yet Hughes remained closeted in his life and in his work. In his poetry, layers of resistance mediate desire, denying any stable sexual identity. I argue that this resistance is one of the appeals of his poetry, that we should not bring Hughes out of the closet but read him through his closeting. This appeal aligns with the appeal of today’s “down-low” in that it plays at the borderlines of masculinity, knowingness, and innocence. Hughes’s closet is racialized; his refusals challenge presumptions about sexual identities as race-free categories. Desire in his poetry challenges us to rethink sexuality and sexual categories today. But those whose sexual identity is in development already do that rethinking; Hughes offers ways to ask questions about one’s sexuality without classificatory answers, a lesson to take into classrooms where Hughes is already being taught and sexual identity is in development.


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pp. 30-57
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