Saturday, December 03, 2011

Memoirs: Chapter Eleven

The Nineties

In world affairs the decisive feature of this decade was the disintegration of Communism, a process that began a little earlier, in 1989. That year signaled the start of a sequence of upheavals that ended the Communist regimes in various Central and Eastern European countries.

The unrest began in Poland, and continued in Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. One feature common to most of these developments was the extensive use of campaigns of civil resistance demonstrating popular opposition to the continuation of one-party rule and increasing the pressure for change. Romania was the only Eastern Bloc country to overthrow its Communist regime violently. The emblematic event was the fall of the Berlin Wall, leading to German reunification in 1990.

By the end of 1991 the unthinkable had happened. The Soviet Union fell apart, with Russia and 14 other nations declaring their independence: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Between 1990 and 1992 Albania and Yugoslavia scrapped Communism, with the latter country splitting into five successor states. The impact was felt in dozens of Socialist countries. Communism was abandoned in nations such as Cambodia, Ethiopia, and Mongolia, and South Yemen.

Collectively the effect of these changes was stupendous. The collapse of Communism meant the end of the Cold War.  Grandly, Francis Fukuyama proclaimed "the end of history," signifying the triumph of liberal capitalism.

In only five countries were Communist authorities able to retain a monopoly on power: the People's Republic of China, Cuba, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam. The European political landscape changed drastically, with some Eastern Bloc countries joining NATO even as stronger European economic and social integration emerged.

Since I had long been an opponent of Communism I rejoiced in this panoply of developments. Perhaps I should not have gloated, but I recall having felt a particular sense of satisfaction when I learned that Nicolae Ceausescu, the bloody Romanian dictator, was executed by his own troops.

Some observers on the far left maintained that these developments were actually a good thing.  They would foster the emergence of “genuine Marxism,” now freed from the vampiric ravages of its Eastern European caricature. Thus purified, socialism would rise again.  Of course this expectation proved unrealistic.  The hopes and anxieties (depending on one’s point of view) regarding socialist revolution - a prospect that had been ostensibly hovering in the wings since the turbulent years of the 1960s - dissipated.


My own little world of gay studies also saw a major change. After the success of the Research Guide, which had been published in 1987, Garland asked me to create a comprehensive Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (EoH). I sensed that this was a rare chance, one in which the window of opportunity might soon close. Together with several close associates, I worked feverishly on the project. Published early in 1990, the Encyclopedia had 770 articles in two volumes, clocking in at 1484 pages. Methodologically we ranged as widely as possible, embracing historical, literary, medical, psychological, sociological, and transcultural aspects in biographical, topical, and thematic entries. Inevitably, the focus tended to be Western (because of the availability of information), but African, Eastern, Latin American topics were also included. The aim was to create a reference work of world homosexuality,

The eminence grise of the project was undoubtedly Warren Johansson, whose knowledge of classical and German sources (the latter very important for a project of this scope) was unparalleled. The day-to-day running of the “office” (actually located in my apartment) fell to the established activist Stephen Donaldson (Robert A. Martin), who had solid credentials as a working journalist. A newcomer was William A. Percy, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. Bill pressed us to include topics that we had neglected to consider in such fields as philosophy and law. While he was not directly affiliated with the project, Stephen O. Murray, an independent scholar and close friend in San Francisco, made sure that we paid proper attention to non-Western cultures. Steve had done field work in Mexico and Guatemala, and possessed extensive knowledge of the anthropological literature.

Still many gaps remained, and I had to address these as best I could. The greatest difficulty was in recruiting women scholars as contributors. Nonetheless, lesbian issues had to be covered. Several of us wrote some of these entries under pseudonyms. The use of cover names was an established practice in the gay world, and in fact the names habitually used by two of the contributors, Donaldson and Johansson, were pseudonyms. Eventually, however, a malicious woman in San Francisco, miffed at the paucity of female contributors, publicly trashed this practice in an effort to discredit the Encyclopedia. Even though no significant errors had been discovered in the content of the work, Garland Publishing caved to the pressure, withdrawing the work from circulation.

The 1990 Encyclopedia of Homosexuality remains a true first for, while there were various reference works on sexology, no one had attempted a comprehensive work on our subject before in any language. Despite the withdrawal, copies of the Encyclopedia are available for purchase through Internet book sellers, including Amazon. There is an electronic copy at

Before the EoH crash, Donaldson and I began two major spin-offs. The first was a thirteen-volume set of reprints of significant scholarly articles under the umbrella title of Studies in Homosexuality. There were two main categories: disciplines (arts; criminology and law; ethnography; medicine and science; politics; psychology; and sociology) and area studies (the ancient world; Asia; and Europe and America). Each volume began with a substantial summary of the progress of research in the field. Garland published this set - quite expensive and intended mainly for libraries - in 1992.

The other project was less fortunate. It was to create a Concise Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, recycling materials from EoH while adding other new entries.  The new work was to be issued by a major trade publisher. I subcontracted this job to Donaldson. Unfortunately,he procrastinated and the work did not get done in time. The Concise Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, now dated, survives only in manuscript copies.

Since I first joined the gay movement as an active participant in the 1970s, I noted that it was dominated by left-leaning individuals. This was particularly true in New York City, for long a liberal bastion. These gay leftists had sensitive antennae for any person who was not with the program, as they saw it. As a result I had to endure repeated efforts to relegate me to the margin. I was even excluded from CLAGS, the gay research group headquartered in my own institution, the City University of New York. One left-leaning reviewer outrageously claimed that the EoH was a "neocon" work.

In synch with the world decline of progressivism and Marxism noted at the beginning of this chapter, the leftist domination of the gay movement began to subside. Or did it? Perhaps it would be better to say that it simply morphed into multiculturalism and a generic anti-imperialism. Capitalism remained the enemy. For their part, The Log Cabin Republicans sought to present an alternative gay voice in the political arena. Yet outside their ranks few took the Log Cabiners seriously. I was not tempted to join.


However, in the middle of the decade a group came along that I decided to try: Beyond Queer Friends (BQF). This Internet group was convened by Paul Varnell, a distinguished gay journalist based in Chicago. (Paul died on December 10, 2011 at the age of sixty.) The group took its name from a book by Bruce Bawer that voiced objections to the left-leaning hegemony that flourished in gay-lib groups. In order to assure freedom of expression, or so I was told, membership was restricted (it was a list-serv on the Internet). After the initial intake of founders, which included me, proposed members had to go through a careful vetting. There were about sixty members.

The announced purpose of BQF was to generate a new nonleft approach to homosexuality. Ostensibly, the group had a strong libertarian component. Varnell, for example, was well versed in the libertarian writings of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, though he adulterated this commitment with a curious devotion to the works of Leo Strauss. Before long, though, I found that the tone of BQF was set by social conservatives. The dominant faction was obsessively concerned with advancing the cause of same-sex marriage, promoted as a device for achieving social stability. A common view was that gay men, ravaged by promiscuity, needed to be herded into this constraining institution for their own good.

In BQF there was little toleration for discussing prostitution, even though the main founder Paul Varnell had earned his living for a number of years as a gay hustler. Also banned were pederasty and pornography. I called these exclusions the Four P's: promiscuity, prostitution, pederasty, and pornography. Eventually I came to regard the group as even more intolerant than the doctrinaire leftists it purported to supplant.

The BQF group included some articulate, intelligent members, and for a while I was content to spar with them. But after ten years I had had enough and resigned. Today, they maintain a somewhat minimalist public Internet site called the Independent Gay Forum.


I still had a substantial residue of royalties from EoH, which cost $150 a set. I decided to use this money for some long-desired foreign travel. I had kept in touch with my old Columbia flame, Neal M., who had taken a job teaching art history at Louisiana Tech University. In the summer of 1992 we flew around the world in six weeks: Hawaii, Bali, Bangkok, Kathmandu, New Delhi, Athens, Cairo, and back to New York. I loved all of it, except for India, which was too crowded and dirty.

Not long after returning to his job in Louisiana, Neal got fired owing to some indiscreet sexual references he had made in class in the Bible-belt Louisiana town where he was teaching. He made sustained efforts to find a new job, but was unsuccessful. As the checks from his unemployment insurance began to run out, he and I worked out a plan whereby he would spend every other month with me in Manhattan, the other months with his mother in Tennessee. For twelve years this arrangement functioned well for both of us.

Neal was an excellent driver and indefatigable traveler. I could make good use of his talents. As I was nearing 60, I realized that I had only a finite window of time in which my mobility would hold up. Accordingly, I drew up lists of destinations covering three parts of the world: 1) Europe; 2) the US and Canada; and 3) the rest of the planet.

As a rule, we took two trips a year, one in January, generally to a warm place; and one in July. Our trips to Europe, where we usually based ourselves in France, were largely devoted to filling in gaps. We saw lots of new places in North America - especially the National Parks and sites of modern architecture - so that eventually I had visited parts of all the 48 lower states and Hawaii. Only Alaska was neglected.

In Latin America our central interest turned out to be pre-Columbian monuments. In Mexico we visited the pyramids north of Mexico City, Monte Albán near Oaxaca, and Palenque, a particularly magical place. There were other major pre-Columbian sites in Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize. By contrast, Costa Rica and Panama, favored by many travelers, we found less interesting. We particularly liked Peru, where we went twice, and Bolivia. Once I traveled on my own to Rio de Janeiro, a truly beautiful city (even though it boasts no pre-Columbian ruins!).

Japan, which is definitely not foreigner-friendly, proved a challenge. China, where I had long desired to go, was particularly rewarding, despite the incessant demand that we buy things. Probably the high point of our Asia trips was Cambodia, where the splendor of the remains at Angkor is beyond description. I had resisted going to Vietnam, but found the country quite fascinating once I got there.



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