Saturday, December 03, 2011

Memoirs: Chapter Nine

Return to the United States

By the summer of 1967 it was clear that our English sojourn was coming to an end. Jack Ferguson had completed his dissertation and been awarded his D. Phil. degree at Oxford. I had written the most important chapters of my own dissertation.

For foreigners, economic prospects in Britain were not promising. Luckily, while we were still in England we managed to secure good teaching jobs, he at Columbia University, I at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY.

As Jack and I journeyed in a leisurely manner on our ocean liner, it became gradually clear to us that we were in for a set of major changes, and not just those stemming from the challenge of taking on full-time teaching jobs for the first time in our lives.

Great Britain, where we had lived for four years, was doing fairly well. The country had gotten rid of most of its empire, and made a successful adjustment to its new status as a middle-rank power. As early as 1957 Harold Macmillan had assured the British people that they had “never had it so good.” This statement was indeed true and economic conditions continued to improve over the next decade. The country was in a sunny, even ebullient mood.

In the United States things were different. The Civil Rights Movement, necessary as it was, was sending out mixed signals. On the one hand, Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech to a vast crowd from the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Only two years later, however, the Watts section of Los Angeles erupted in five days of rioting and looting. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed with regard to French history, the most difficult period for a nation that has been under tight controls is when it begins to reform itself. President Lyndon Johnson struggled with the Vietnam War. Eventually it proved his undoing and almost that of the nation.

Our first impressions of New York City, where our ship docked, were not reassuring. The mayoralty of John Lindsay, which had begun in 1966, had been immediately marred by a massive transit strike. Social discord and crime were on the increase. Muggings in particular were becoming common. Ugly graffiti disfigured the subway cars. New York seemed ungovernable. Lindsay had hoped to preside over “fun city.” But increasingly people felt that it had become “run city.”

The travails of the nation were scarcely over. On April 4, 1968, Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. This killing was followed by that of Robert Kennedy two months later in Los Angeles. In August the chaotic Democratic Party Convention in Chicago was the scene a of a police riot against demonstrators.

During the spring of 1968 the nation had watched in fascination as Columbia University was occupied by students, protesting the Vietnam War, together with some local issues. Later, the Kent State shootings—also known as the Kent State massacre—occurred at Kent State University in Ohio, involving the shooting of unarmed college students by members of the Ohio National Guard on Monday, May 4, 1970. The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others. Some of the students who were shot had been protesting against the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Richard Nixon announced in a television address on April 30. Other students who were shot had simply been walking nearby or observing the protest from a distance.

The Kent State shootings evoked a tremendous national response: hundreds of universities, colleges, and high schools closed throughout the United States due to a student strike of four million students, The effect on public opinion was palpable, and opposition to the Vietnam War reached a tipping point.


I had not visited the US in four years, and found readjustment difficult. One oddity was figuring out the currency. At the supermarket I at first felt the need to convert dollar prices into pounds, shillings, and pence - a currency that in fact disappeared not long after in Great Britain itself.

A more challenging readjustment was posed by the shifts in language that had begun while I was away. Broadly speaking, these changes stemmed from four sources: 1) black ghetto slang; 2) counter-culture lingo; 3) drug talk; and 4) the extensive feminist reform of language.

Examples of the first (black-derived) category were, as far as I was aware, filtered through a white sensibility, mingling admiration and fear. These qualities transpire in the following fictitious exchange: First Black Panther: "My dashiki and enormous afro help me to mau-mau whitey." Second Panther: "Right on, bro'!" Confusingly, "bad" could sometimes mean "good," as with "bad-ass drugs." At night the brothers retired to their "crib," typically in the 'hood where one's "homies" lived. When adopted by white people, such expressions served mainly to add color to one's linguistic palette. One change was mandatory, though. One must never say "Negro," but "black" or "African American" instead.

There was some overlap with the second category, consisting of slang terms circulating among hippies and the Counterculture in general. Already in London I had encountered a few “flower children.” However, they flocked en masse in San Francisco during the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967. Enjoyable experiences were termed “groovy.” These would be more frequent were it not for run ins with the police (the “fuzz” or the “pig”), leading to a “bust.” Such a fate could accrue even from such a harmless thing as taking a “whiz” (pee) on the street. Naturally, commercial transactions and having a regular job were hateful distractions from the proper business of enjoying life. Still, having no funds at all was a "bummer," so that “bread” (money) was sometimes required. In its absence, needed goods could be obtained by “ripping off” stores with a “five-finger discount.” Retards who refused to loosen up and go with the flow were stigmatized as “uptight.” Of course nothing could be done with the despised “squares,” who clung to antiquated bourgeois mores. All the same, it was possible to be too eccentric, or “flaky.” In some circles, Hindu sages and those claiming to be such were popular: hence the words “karma” and “guru.”

Turning to the third category, the increasing prevalence of drug use diffused terms from that subculture. Marijuana was universally termed “pot,” generally taken in the form of “joints.” One’s personal stock of drugs, regrettably subject to pilferage, was a “stash.” Properly used, controlled substances produced a “buzz,” leading to a “high.” The word “trip” usually referred to a drug experience: hence the positive adjective “trippy.” The noun “bag” came to mean a predilection or favorite habit, deriving from a common way of packaging drugs. The word could also be used negatively: "not my bag, man."

Most of the terms in the three previous categories have proved ephemeral: employing them nowadays seems quaint or deliberately ironic. Not so the final category, comprising a set of linguistic changes urged mainly by feminists and those allied with them. Seeking to achieve gender neutrality is in fact a form of linguistic prescriptivism. The aims is to universalize a form of English that minimizes assumptions about the gender or biological sex of people referred to in speech and writing. Proponents of gender-neutral language hold that the use of the older gender-specific language often implies male superiority, fostering sexism and an unequal state of society.

One area of such changes involves replacing gender-specific job titles with gender-neutral ones. Thus “fireman” yields to “firefighter” and “fisherman” to “fisher.” Yet “lawyer,” judged to be already gender-neutral. can remain as is. Somewhat confusingly, “actor,” a male term, has now generally been deemed to include “actress,” which like other -ess terms may seem demeaning. Some new compounds, such as “chairperson” (now usually termed simply “chair”), seem awkward. Generally speaking, older marked terms, such as stewardess, waitress, and usherette, have been phased out. Yet neologisms, like “waitron,” have not generally gained currency; in this instance, “server” is preferred.

After some resistance to the usage, Ms. came into use as a term of address, replacing Miss and Mrs. There is, however, no gender-neutral term embracing the senses of Ms. and Mr.

The generic use of “man” and the pronoun “he” early came under fire. In some cases, these difficulties can be addressed by using the plural: “human beings” and “they.” One also encounters “he and she” or increasingly, and gratingly, the use of “they” in the singular.

There is still much disagreement on proper usage. In an effort to deal with this issue, some associations and governments publish handbooks of job titles featuring official recommendations for gender-neutral language.

In the gay-rights movement many women held that “gay” is a male term, so that the binary expression “lesbian and gay” became common. Lately some have felt that “queer” eliminates the difficulty, but many find this term objectionable, preferring such cumbersome acronyms as LGBTQ.

So much then for this somewhat lengthy excursus into language and usage, ca. 1970 and after. When all is said and done, though, I confess that I remain skeptical about how much social change can be accomplished by manipulating language. As I was to learn in joining the fight for gay rights, changing laws is ultimately much more significant than achieving linguistic correctness.


In the late sixties, Vassar College, where I had gone to teach, was one of the “Seven Sisters,” admitting only women. At first I found this distaff republic a little hard to get accustomed to. But not entirely, for I shacked up with a female student, as the expression goes. Defying college regulations Sarah and lived together for about six months. I found that I had no trouble with heterosexual copulation, which we did nightly. It was just that I preferred the gay type. My fellow professors were generally understanding of this relationship, and we often socialized together. At the time it all seemed pretty idyllic.

Yet when I was invited to join the art history faculty at Columbia University, I couldn’t resist. It was back to the big, bad city for me. The situation was very different from the one at Vassar, for I was arriving in the wake of the great Columbia occupation.

I had agreed to take the Columbia job at the end of December, 1967. In the light of what happened very soon after I hesitated, but I went ahead anyway and showed up for the job on schedule.

The Columbia University protests erupted during the spring of 1968 after students discovered links between the university and the institutional apparatus supporting the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War,. At the same time, there was concern over an allegedly segregationist gymnasium to be constructed in nearby Morningside Park adjacent to Harlem. Opponents derisively named the proposed structure Gym Crow.

Ever since March of 1967 indignation had been building over the university’s links with the Institute of Defense Analysis (IDA), a weapons-research think tank affiliated with the US Department of Defense. The opposition was led by the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), then  a prominent left-leaning group with a presence in many universities. Following a peaceful demonstration inside the Low Library administration building on March 27, 1968, the Columbia Administration placed on probation six anti-war Columbia student activists for violating its ban on indoor demonstrations.

In response to the Columbia Administration's attempts to suppress student protest on its campus, and Columbia's plans for the gymnasium, Columbia SDS activists and the student activists who led Columbia's Student Afro Society (SAS) held a second, confrontational demonstration on April 23, 1968. After the insurgent Columbia and Barnard students were kept from protesting inside Low Library by Columbia security guards, most of the angry students marched down to the Columbia gymnasium construction site in Morningside Park, where they attempted to stop construction of the gymnasium and began to scuffle with the New York City Police officers who were guarding the construction site. Columbia SDS chairman Mark Rudd then led the protesters from Morningside Park back to Columbia's campus, where they took over Hamilton Hall, a building housing both classrooms and the offices of the Columbia College Administration. Low Library was also occupied, with the students ensconsing themselves in the University president’s office, where they sampled his cigars and rifled the files.

The turmoil came to a conclusion in the early morning hours of April 30, 1968, when the NYPD quashed the demonstrations with tear gas, storming both Hamilton Hall and the Low Library. Hamilton Hall was emptied peacefully. However, the police cleared others buildings violently as approximately 150 students were injured and taken to hospitals, while over 700 protesters were arrested. The police arrested and/or injured more students during a second round of protests on May 17-18, 1968.

The protests achieved two of their stated goals. Columbia disaffiliated from the IDA and scrapped the plans for the controversial gym, building a subterranean physical fitness center under the north end of campus instead.  The events, which were widely covered in the media, created a sensation, for never had an Ivy League University been treated in this manner.

From my Vassar College apartment I listened to the unfolding events on the radio with awed fascination. At one point, when I learned that Hamilton Hall was about to be occupied, I telephoned Jack Ferguson, who had an office in the building, urging him  to get out.

I had been in basic sympathy with the campus insurrection, and over the summer I allowed myself to be lulled by the idea that positive changes - termed “restructuring” - were coming to Columbia University, my new place of employment. Not long after settling in at the campus I met Sandra C., another junior faculty member who became my best friend. For his part, my partner Jack had moved to Smith College in Northhampton.

With unfortunate results for our career prospects, Sandra and I adopted a position of insurgency. We believed the promises of reform. We did not count on the fact that that the old guard, which held the power, was just biding its time. Six years later we were both out.


At Columbia I met a person who was to prove far more consequential for me in the long run than Sandra. A graduate student, Neal M. was slim and trim in the almost emaciated style then fashionable: a kind of male twiggy. He had long blond hair, a cute face, and an enchanting smile. Not every one was charmed by Neal, though, for he wore a cowboy hat and tooled boots, leading to unfortunate comparisons with Jon Voight in the film Midnight Cowboy.

Neal had a menial job in a collective office I shared with some seven or eight other people. I snuck a look at him whenever I though I could without being observed. What a dish! Fortunately, he was interested in a course I was teaching on Early Netherlandish painting, and started auditing it.

I took the plunge and invited him to dinner à deux in my nearby apartment. As the evening drew to a close and he prepared to depart, it started snowing outside. I urged him to stay and he did so, using my spare bed. There I seduced him.

Neal proved to be heteroflexible, so that the sex was not a problem. However, he had a girl friend who became suspicious, and for both our sakes we had to keep the affair under wraps. We were not always successful. In addition, Jack, who would come down on weekends from Northampton, found out about it and was terribly hurt. Finally, I was still seeing my girlfriend from Vassar College, who had graduated and moved to the city. Life was complicated in those days!

Despite these distractions, I had become obsessed with Neal, and this condition proved very hard to exorcise. Even though he had not completed his Ph.D. work, Neal was lucky to land a job in the art department of the University of Georgia in 1972. For a year I was unconsolable, boring my friends to extinction with my grief.

Through thick and thin I was to stay in contact with Neal for some 45 years. In my fashion I outlasted his several girlfriends, and finally in 1992 Neal and I developed a living arrangement. I will write more about this later.


One day a friend took me to a gay bathhouses, a burgeoning phenomenon in the New York of those days. Fascinated, I started going two or three times a week. I also began visiting the trucks in the West Village, where horny men would gather in the dark, cavernous interiors of the vehicles from late evening until dawn. Amazingly, there were no reports of violence at these unsupervised orgies. One had to be careful to leave one’s wallet at home. I used to hide an extra subway token in my shoe - and that was it.

Another venue of that time was the backroom bar, where one could have sex on the premises. A favorite place (I have forgotten the name) was located in the West Village just north of 14th Street. At midday this was a workingmen’s bar, but in the evening it transformed into something else. One went in to the main part of the bar and purchased a beer. Then one got stamped and was admitted to the first of two rooms with sexual activity. This room had low lighting, but beyond was another one, completely dark. As with the truck experience, wallets needed to stay at home. I usually tucked an old piece of ID into my shoe, but one night this was taken. The almost endless groping provided plenty of opportunity for thieves. Once I met a young man there who had somehow lost his shirt. Putting my leather jacket over him, I ushered him out and into his car.

No one who ever visited the place could forget the Mineshaft, a kind of Hieronymus Bosch redoubt located in the meatpacking district of the West Village. Patrons went up a narrow staircase to a gatekeeper who screened them. For what, I was not quite sure, because I never saw anyone turned away. Once inside you could check any or all items of clothing. There were several slings for fisting, and occasionally some well-hung man hoisted himself up on the bar for some instant fellatio. The basement contained a sinister shrine: an old-fashioned bathtub where anyone so disposed could recline, to be pissed on by all and sundry.

The conventional wisdom has it that the sex in the bathouses and backroom bars was totally anonymous and nothing lasting could come of it. Anonymous it mostly was, but I formed two relationships from encounters at the baths. One was with Brian G., a lusty, supervirile New Yorker of Irish origin who, like me, was a professor at a branch of the City University. This affair lasted only a summer, and we both went on to other things. A few years later I met the boyish Ron S. at one of the bathhouses. He had a job near my apartment in Morningside Heights, and used to come over about once a week for sex during his lunch hour. Both these studs were given to penetrating me anally, something that I had not previously much cared for. But they did it very well, and I got used to it. Not too much, thank goodness, for converting my preferences to that particular form of bottoming would in due course have given me HIV/AIDS.

There were other disease problems in those days. I contracted gonorrhea a couple of times, but that was easily cured. Fairly early on in my bathhouse career, though I came down with hepatitis and had to take a few weeks off from teaching at Columbia. This experience taught me to be more careful. When AIDS was first reported in 1981 I took due notice. I waged a great battle within myself to give up my promiscuous ways. As a result, I remained free of the disease. Of course good luck played a role as well.


Of course I kept up my duties as a medievalist in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia. Being close in age to the graduate students I speedily developed a rapport with a number of them. Most of my colleagues struck me as fairly dull, intellectually and otherwise. Some, who found out that I was gay, were actively hostile. Yet there was one major exception - a spectacular one - to to the general placidity: Meyer Schapiro, who was rightly revered as a major scholar. Like me, he "grooved" (as folks would have said in those days) to both medieval and modern art. On many occasions, Meyer would accost me in the hall, recounting his theories and stories. The stories often involved his meeting notable figures in Europe, such as the philosopher Martin Heidegger and Josef Strzygowksi, a controversial Viennese art historian.

In 1969 I finally finished writing my doctoral dissertation on an illuminated Bible of the Romanesque period, and secured the Ph.D. degree from NYU. This was to prove an essential “union card,” for I would soon find myself shown the door at Columbia.


About the time I arrived at Columbia I decided to formalize my relation with the gay movement by joining the Mattachine Society of New York. This step proved unfortunate, because one day a secretary opened a piece of mail and found that, horror of horrors!, it was homosexual. The gossip quickly spread. I am sure that this orientation played a role in my being forced out of the Columbia department in 1974. At faculty meetings I found it prudent to listen in silence as colleagues dismissed gay grad students as “weak sisters.”

I joined Mattachine just before the Stonewall riots in June of 1969. I was in Europe at the time and so missed the events themselves. When I got back in September, I knew that fundamental changes were under way.

Even though the story of Stonewall is familiar, it must be briefly described. The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations reacting to a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, Such raids on gay bars were commonplace in American cities during this period, but this was the first time that there had been such massive resistance. The events took place in an atmosphere characterized by a heady mixture of civil-rights resistance, the counterculture, and opposition to the Vietnam War. As I have noted, the Columbia uprising and occupation had taken place only the year before. Some Columbia students were involved in Stonewall.

A common misperception holds that the Stonewall riots launched the American gay rights movement. On the contrary, that had begun in Los Angeles in 1950. However, these events galvanized the movement and advanced it to an altogether different level. The ensuing mood of assertiveness and militancy fostered the founding of new gay rights organizations in the United States and around the world. On June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride marches took place in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York commemorating the anniversary of the riots. Today, Gay Pride events are held annually throughout the world toward the end of June.

While I was away in England, my friend Jack Stafford completed his degree at Ohio State University and moved back to New York, where he became a librarian at the Queensborough Public Library. Jack had come out as gay, and began to apply himself to issues in that regard in his field of librarianship.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that in North America a high proportion of male librarians are homosexual. Only in 1971, however, was the Gay Task Force of the American Library Association (ALA} formed. Jack joined early on, and he persuaded me to do so also. Oddly enough, in those days very few professional librarians could be persuaded to stick their necks out in this way, so outsiders like myself were welcome. Under the leadership of Barbara Gittings, the ALA group created a number of short bibliographies - leaflets, really - distributed to librarians and patrons. This proved to be a very practical step in terms of improving the quality of books on homosexuality available in the average public library. It is here, after all, that many young and closeted gay men and lesbians go to seek information about themselves; in earlier decades they were likely to find only judgmental condemnations reflecting the category of "abnormal psychology."

Barbara Gittings also recognized the need for a comprehensive bibliography, as the only large one available that time consisted mainly of negative items, many stemming from the field of psychiatry. Jack was delegated to head this subgroup, and I agreed to help him. When Jack was murdered in Queens in 1973 I managed to rescue the manuscript. I forwarded the original to Barbara in Philadelphia, keeping a copy for myself. In this way the seed was planted for my interest in homosexual bibliography, which finally achieved fruition with the publication of my Homosexuality: A Research Guide in 1987.

In the wake of Stonewall several trade publishers rushed to commission gay books; as one might expect, most of these were inconsequential. In fact a wide variety of gay-positive books could be found at the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in Greenwich Village. This store, which Craig Rodwell had founded in 1967, was the first business of its kind.

Much more significant at the time was the gay press, which began with the foundation of The Advocate in Los Angeles in 1967, two years before Stonewall. The counterculture of the sixties had given rise to an “underground” press, with such publications as the Berkeley Barb and the East Village Other (New York). These papers were not gay, but gay friendly, sometimes hosting gay columnists. Two of these were the couple of Jack Nichols and Lige Clarke, who wrote for Al Goldstein’s sexually explicit Screw. Goldstein then set the two up with a satellite paper called simply Gay. This proved the first of a series of ephemeral gay papers in New York City. Others appeared in most major cities in North America. Probably the two with the most lasting influence were the Gay Community News (GCN) of Boston and The Body Politic of Toronto. Across the Atlantic there appeared Gay News (London), Le Gai Pied (Paris), and Babilonia (Milan). I began avidly reading as many of these papers as I could, helping me in ways that I could not anticipate to create a data base for my later scholarly work.


In the summer of 1973 while on a plane returning from San Francisco, I read a brief press notice of a new organization, the Gay Academic Union (GAU) in New York. With a strong commitment to addressing professional issues, this group sought to embrace the whole spectrum of academia. I immediately joined and started going regularly to meetings. Our first task was to organize a Conference, which in due course took place at John Jay College in Manhattan over Thanksgiving weekend.

It quickly became evident that GAU was riven by its own internal disputes. Various forms of leftism were rife, and some members formed Marxist study groups. Adherence to feminism was de rigueur and the organization officially adopted a statement of principle supporting the rights of “all women” over all men, even gay ones. Despite these unpleasant features I stuck it out.

One dividend of GAU membership was meeting three men who became important in my life: Warren Johansson (Joseph Wallfield), Arthur Warner, and John Lauritsen.

At a meeting in a GAU members apartment one day after the Conference I was approached by a bearded, somewhat shabby man “of repellent aspect,” as Oscar Wilde would have said. This was Warren Johansson, who immediately announced that he was a “Marxist in economics, a Freudian in psychology, and a Structuralist in linguistics.” Yet there was more, in a branch of knowledge unique to Warren. Wielding his formidable knowledge of languages Warren was to become my guru in historical gay studies, of which he knew a great deal. Having inherited some money from his parents a while before, Warren lived he life of an independent scholar. Apparently he had not been careful about his expenditures, and the money ran out. So he lived from hand to mouth. Warren was based in the Columbia area, so he frequently dropped by. With a a natural gift for instruction, he directed me to begin studying the immense store of German language scholarship that had accumulated prior to 1933. Acquiring the requisite books, I buried myself in texts by Magnus Hirschfeld, Heinrich Hössli, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, and many others. (I had learned German for my work in art history.)

While Johannson was my own age (we were both born in 1934), Arthur Warner, born in 1918, clearly belonged to an older generation. He always wore a coat and tie and spoke, sometimes at great length, with academic precision. He held a law degree from Harvard and a D. Phil. in English history from the University of London. He had taught briefly at the University of Texas in El Paso, but after he inherited some money from his parents had chosen to retire and live in Princeton.

Behind his facade of respectability, Arthur Warner led an adventurous sexual life, consisting of a series of one-night stands and oftentimes even briefer encounters with working-class men, generally blacks. For those who knew him, Arthur’s personal life, wild though it was, served to humanize his otherwise somewhat austere personality.

These experiences gave Warner a fund of real-world knowledge that any sociologist would envy. In addition, these aspects of his life strengthened his commitment to gay rights. He had been an early member of a shadowy New York group called The League, and later was active in the Mattachine Society of New York. With his legal background, Arthur Warner perceived that the sodomy laws were the linchpin of the whole structure of repression that was holding gay people back. To work towards the reform of these laws, state by state, he formed the National Committee for Sexual Liberties, which he eventually induced me to join. Arthur and I spent thousands of hours together on the telephone as he strove to inculcate in my thick head the basic principles of Anglo-American law and procedure.

The last person in this triumvirate was John Lauritsen. Living in a tiny apartment in the East Village, Lauritsen worked in market research. He was an early member of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. Together with his friend David Thorstad, Lauritsen had written a seminal book on the Early Gay Rights Movement in Germany and England. At the time, Lauritsen was still under the sway of the Troskyist Socialist Workers Party, where he had met Thorstad. Of course, leftist commitments were common at the time, and I learned to take such connections in stride.


When I joined the Gay Academic Union (GAU) I was ill-prepared to deal with the intense disputes over gender issues that were to plague the group. At the outset I assumed that the challenges facing gay men and lesbians was essentially the same: legal impediments and the popular stereotypes undergirding prejudice against us. At the first gay-rights march up Sixth Avenue in 1970 my friends and I made a slogan: “Three, five, seven, nine/lesbians are mighty fine.” In our small American Library Association meetings men and women got along without problems.

In GAU things were different. Many of the men had internalized feminist arguments concerning male sexism, and were continually lamenting the fact that women made up only about 10% of the membership. A few of these women were, I later found out, not in fact lesbians, but heterosexual women who were attracted to gay men. It was useless to point out that many lesbians preferred to work with women’s organizations. Since most of us had full-time jobs, we had to make a choice of where to place our energies, and that was the choice that women made. No, I was told. Women were repelled by male sexism. At one general meeting one of these individuals stood up to say that anyone who had a penis should be ashamed of that fact. In my view, and that of a few others, such expressions of mea culpa reflected a continuation of internalized homophobia under another form.

The oppression of gay men, we were instructed, was simply a product of misogyny. The “end of patriarchy” would automatically signal freedom for all. I didn’t buy it.

Some of the GAU eminentos told me that I would attain enlightenment by studying some of the purported classics of feminism. At all events, proficiency in feminist doctrine was, so many believed, a prerequisite for any adequate understanding of gay liberation,

I was actually favorably impressed by Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique, which accurately described the ethos that required that my mother abandon her career at the end of World War II to become a housewife. Yet Friedan was in bad repute in our circles because she had denounced the “lavender menace,” that is, the influence of lesbians in the women’s movement. Besides she was no longer cutting-edge.

Treatises on the history and future prospects of matriarchy stood, it was claimed, at the frontiers of knowledge. As an academic with historical training, I found the popular books extolling a mythical matriarchy in prehistoric times pathetic.

The worst of all was the literary corpus of the Boston theologian Mary Daly. Reading her screeds, I was appalled. Whenever it suited her, the Boston scholar freely invented facts and generalizations. As a kind of bonus feature, her books were laced with a scarcely concealed hatred of men. Over the years this misandry became more salient, as Daly enounced her wish that men be reduced to some 10% of the population. Apparently even genocide did not lie outside outside the boundaries of radical feminism. Make no mistake about it, hers was an evil doctrine.

It was said that Daly’s jaundiced view reflected her run-ins with the administration at Boston College, a Jesuit institution, where she taught theology for 37 years. However, these difficulties were of her own making. For almost thirty years Daly had engaged in the despicable practice of excluding men from her classes. They were “dysfunctional.”

Another disturbing contribution was Janice Raymond’s book The Transexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male (1979), framing transsexuals as accomplices in an insidious male plot to undermine the women's movement. Thus male-to-female transsexuals symbolically rape women's bodies by attempting to acquire one for themselves. For their part, female-to-male transsexuals are, in Raymond’s view, lesbians in denial. The author truly reached the lower depths with her comparison of sex-change surgeons to Nazi death-camp doctors like Josef Mengele. This is the “reductio ad Hitlerum,” pinpointed long ago by Leo Strauss.

At all events, it was orthodoxy in the politically correct sectors of GAU that transvestites and transsexuals - at least of the M2F variety - must never be tolerated. Their sole motive was to “mock women.”  We were not supposed to ask the trans people for their own views of why they had made their lifestyle choices.

There were also more positive influences. At one event, C. A. Tripp appeared. This scholar, who later became a good friend, had written an important book, The Homosexual Matrix. A practicing therapist (though a non-Freudian), Tripp had benefited by being mentored by Alfred Kinsey, and sought to apply the results of Kinsey’s work to the study of same-sex behavior. So had, of course, Kinsey himself, but in the larger contexts of male and female behavior. During the 1950s I had absorbed the basics of Kinsey’s findings, but needed a reminder of how they applied to our present situation.

At the GAU Conference of at Columbia University in the fall of 1976, differences among the factions reached a boiling point. To my surprise, most of the women and a large number of feminist men simply abandoned the group. Their hope was, I think, that it would soon dissolve. This was not to be, at least not right away, because chapters had been formed in Los Angeles and San Diego. For their own internal reasons, though, these eventually did fade away.


In New York City, a small group that included Johansson, Lauritsen, and myself continued to work under the aegis of the Scholarship Committee of GAU. Meeting in my apartment in Morningside Heights, we discussed a wide variety of topics, from the New Testament to Federico García Lorca. The findings of a number of the sessions on language and linguistics later found their way into my little book Homolexis (1985). Rarely were there more than ten or eleven people at these gatherings. We fared forward bravely, but with a sense that we were an embattled minority. The politically correct faction, whose members had seceded, seemed to have everything going for them, even though they went on to other things. Some formed Marxist study groups, while others proclaimed themselves Democratic socialists. For both factions salvation was at hand: socialism was soon to arrive and solve all our ills. For these folks the election of Ronald Reagan was a rude awakening.

Those of us in the Scholarship Committee realized that we must do more than have our little meetings. There must be publications. Accordingly, in 1977 we launched an academic periodical, Gai Saber, drawing on written versions of presentations given at the annual Conferences. There was plenty of available material, but after the third issue we ran out of money. A little later I decided to create a successor publication called Gay Books Bulletin aka The Cabirion. Containing articles as well as reviews, this periodical ran for twelve issues. It always lost money, and I made up the difference out of my own pocket.

During the summers I stopped my annual custom of going to Europe and began visits to Los Angeles, where I was hospitably received by my oldest friend, Paul H. With Paul’s help I made contact with the three leading gay figures of the city, Jim Kepner, W. Dorr Legg, and Don Slater. Operating from his post at ONE, Inc., Legg had managed to bring out a huge, though flawed bibliography of homosexuality in 1976. I persuaded him that a new, radically revised edition was needed, and we eagerly began work. In this cause the frequency of my flights to Southern California increased. Eventually, in 1981, Legg and I parted company over a disagreement over credit for the work, and the project was abandoned, a little more than half-way through. All the same, I had reached a crucial stage in my bibliographical commitment.  Rest assured: on this exciting topic there will be more soon.



Blogger Stephen said...

"one day a secretary opened a piece of male"? an almost Freudian slip!

Surely, there were more GAUs than those you mention and the Toronto one I cofounded in 1975.

And I'm pretty sure that the 1970 student strike (and the Kent State demonstration) was a protest of the revelation of bombing of Cambodia with the two killings of students at Mississippi State and four at Kent State exacerbating the outrage.

10:07 AM  

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