Inventors of Gay: Lincoln Kirstein

By: Christopher Harrity

Lincoln Kirstein
May 4, 1907 – January 5, 1996

Imposingly tall, and exotically beautiful, Lincoln Kirstein was a protean cultural impresario. Rejected by The Harvard Advocate, he convinced his wealthy father to fund his own magazine, Horn & Hound. It was an important magazine in the artistic world, especially on the east coast. He moved away from the project when he began to fund George Balanchine in 1934 to develop a ballet company. This endeavor ultimately produced the New York City Ballet, and Kirstein served as the company's General Director from 1946 to 1989.

It's well known that Kirstein enjoyed sex with Harvard undergraduates, sailors, street boys and others in the showers at the 63rd St. YMCA. He also had a number of long term relationships with men, including dancer Peter Martinez, but like many men of the period he also had relationships with women and eventually married Fidelma Cadmus, sister of artist Paul Cadmus. Kirstein was Cadmus’s primary patron and footed the bill for his living expenses, as Cadmus’s extremely erotic art was often too vivid for the art buying audience.

Walker-Evans-Lincoln-Kirstein-1930 Kirstein commissioned and helped to fund the physical home of the New York City Ballet: the New York State Theater building at Lincoln Center, designed in 1964 by gay architect Philip Johnson.

Friends with:
Glenway Wescott and Monroe Wheeler — New York gay power couple
George Platt Lynes — Photographer and Kinsey Archive contributor
Katherine Anne Porter — Author
Gertrude Stein — Author
Cecil Beaton — Artist, author, photographer
Jean Cocteau — Artist, author, photographer, film maker, poet

Why we care:
•Kirstein saw Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe in Europe and saw the cultural and erotic potential the company offered. Thus he created the New York City Ballet, which became a locus of homosexual culture in New York.
•He connected artists from various fields to each other, to build a mid-century velvet mafia of creativity.

Recommended reading:
The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein by Martin Duberman

Quarry: A Collection in Lieu of Memoirs of Lincoln Kirstein



Photographed with George Balanchine.

"Inventors of Gay" is our series on important people and cultural influences in LGBT history that helped create the culture we enjoy today.