Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Gay Pride Month "Out of the Closets - Voices of Gay Liberation" a review of sorts

In celebration of Gay Pride, and to provide a bit of perspective on our collective gay history, I have decided to post a few quotes from a book I am reading called Out of the Closets, Voices of Gay Liberation copyright 1972 by Karla Jay and Allen Young, Editors. Published by Douglas Book Corporation. (Available on Amazon)

The book gives a historical perspective of the LGBT civil rights movement and is a series of snapshots written by a variety of authors each with a different viewpoint on the thought and struggle as it was in the late 1960's and early 70's.

I picked up the book last summer at the Provincetown United Methodist Church Thrift Shop - a great place to find some interesting books.

I am fascinated by Gay history and the Gay Lib era: such documentaries as Before Stonewall (unfortunately not currently available on Netflix) and books like Out of the Closets, provide important lessons that we should ensure get passed to future generations along with more recent and historical landmark changes and current progress being brought about by the marriage equality movement.

We have definitely come a long way since 1972. But there is, I think, something essential and valuable about Gay Liberation that has been lost or forgotten.  I have said this before in other essays and still believe in its validity: In some ways, the Gay Liberation movement was a radical experiment that was aborted by the AIDS Crisis.

The experiment was, I think, headed in a very different direction from the current path of marriage equality. Perhaps we would have eventually ended up exactly where we are now without the powerful influence of HIV/AIDS intervening - a twist in gay history that outed many individuals against their will and which brought homosexuality into the news and into the consciousness of the larger society.

HIV/AIDS ignited a new activism that had its roots in Gay Liberation - and in the earlier Civil Rights movement in which many gay and lesbian persons were involved and for which they felt a great affinity.

Historical events (philosophically we can debate whether they were random or inevitable events),  certainly have  conspired to bring us where we are today. In spite of the mainstreaming of the LGBT community - and I'm not convinced we have been entirely mainstreamed or that mainstreaming is what we would all prefer or want - we still experience the ignorance, hate and prejudice of those who do not understand us, who will not hear us, and who believe in their own moral superiority. We are in many ways still facing the same issues as the writers in Out of the Closets.

Marriage equality on a national level will certainly improve the legal status of our relationships but will not necessarily make us equal in the eyes of everyone on the planet. Look at the riots in France, the lawmakers in Uganda, the executions in Muslim nations, and at the discrimination by religious believers in the US - whether its brutal gay bashings and murder in Greenwich Village or the Catholic Church firing employees who marry a same gender partner or a bakery owner who refuses to sell a wedding cake to a same-gender couple. Our lived experience is discounted, ignored, devalued and ridiculed on a daily basis.

So here is  a bit of gay historical perspective: (I am quoting the following passages without permission of the authors under the "Fair Use" provision of copyright law)

From Out of the Closets: here's what Martha Shelly said in the chapter Gay is Good (originally published in Rat February 24,1970; copyright 1970 by Rat):

Understand this - that the worst part of being a homosexual is having to keep it a secret. Not the occasional murders by police or teenage queer-beaters, not the loss of jobs or the expulsion from schools or dishonorable discharges - but the daily knowledge that what you are is so awful that it cannot be revealed. The violence against us is sporadic. Most of us are not affectd. But the internal violence of being made to carry - or choosing to carry - the load of your straight society's unconscious guilt - this is what tears us apart, what makes us want to stand up in the offices, in the factories and schools, and shout out our true identities.

We were rebels from our earliest days - somewhere, maybe just about the time we started to go to school, we rejected straight society - unconsciously...The homosexuals who hide, who play it straight, or pretend that the issue of homosexuality is unimportant, are only hiding the truth from themselves. They are trying to become a part of a society that they rejected instinctively when they were five years old, to pretend it is the result of heredity, or a bad mother, or anything but a gut reaction of nausea against the roles forced on us.

From Out of the Closets: here's what Charles P. Thorp has to say in a chapter called I.D., Leadership and Violence from a keynote speech for the National Students' Liberation front Conference, San Francisco, August 21, 1970:

We have come to see that it is the fairies, faggots queens, etc. that were, through their blatentness (sic), the first to challenge the system.  In essence they were saying they had a right to be Super-Gay because Blatent (sic) is Beautiful We also know that it will not be until what straights call "blatent (sic) behavior is accepted with respect that we are in any sense, any of us, free. For it is Blatent (sic) Faggotry that they really hate. We are all blatent (sic), unless we're ashamed of being Gay and this is why we are all hated.

We may be liberated, we may be out and proud, we may be mainstreamed and married, but we mustn't let our guard down. We mustn't be complacent. Don't mistake lip service and legal protections for acceptance (not to say that acceptance is our goal) or tolerance for understanding, or acceptance for love, because the truth is that straight folk, even the most liberal and progressive, don't really "get it", don't really get us.

Happily, many youngsters are finding the courage at a young age to come out and to shout out their true identities; unfortunately many others who live under still oppressive cultural and religious beliefs see suicide as their only option. This is unacceptable and those institutions and individuals who persist in demonizing LGBT individuals and our sexuality must be held accountable for taking innocent lives.

- Reluctant Rebel, but rebel nonetheless.


Russ Manley said...

I wish I had a copy of that book - it's always interesting to go back and look at first-person perspectives from an earlier point in history, especially gay history.

The selections you quoted - and I know that took some tedious typing, for which I as a reader thank you - bring up a number of thoughts and responses in my mind. But let me give only one or two here, as this is material we could more easily discuss during a long evening of beer and pizza! And I hope this makes some kind of sense to you.

I think I understand the hesitation you seem to express about being "mainstreamed" and continuing to wear the "rebel" badge with some pride. We have fought too long and too hard for the right to be our own distinct selves to lay down our weapons now.

On the other hand - it would be a logical fallacy, I think, to assume that being gay means - requires! - ipso facto remaining an outcast and exile from the larger society for all time. No one, as far as I am aware way out here on the prairie, is arguing or even suggesting that every gay guy and gal has to settle down in the suburbs behind a white picket fence with 2.5 kids, a soccer-mom van, and a pedigreed pooch. Just as no one has ever suggested since the triumph (in some ways) of modern feminism that ALL women have to eschew makeup and wear trousers 24/7, or that they all have to be corporate execs AND 24-hour soccer moms at one and the same time. Differences still exist among the various groups now included in our pluralistic society, and rightly should.

Still, there is a word to be said in favor of a certain degree - neither too much nor too little, hear me when I say - of assimilation and acculturation. I am sure, Frank, you recall as well as I do Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which enjoyed a great vogue back in the 70's among the psychobabbling classes. A pity he did not live to expand upon that - I do think there is a large grain of truth in it. And you will recall that one of those very basic needs, in order for the individual to function well, is the sense of belonging. Of course, that was known long before Maslow was ever thought of.

And to belong, you have to fit in with the group - which means some of your individual preferences must sometimes be suppressed or modified. Now of course this applies not only to gay people, but to all people in general, even straight white patriarchal men. And of course it is up to each of us to count the cost of that - to decide which things we can loosen up on, and which we cannot in good conscience let go of at any cost.

To use a very silly but I think apt example, just for the sake of conversation - you may yearn with all your heart for that great full-body, Technicolor, 3-D tattoo job; but is it really worth giving up the ability to spend Christmas at Grandma's house, where you know your presence would spoil everyone's day, including your own?

Of course, many less extreme examples can be thought of, but I make the point that belonging, acceptance, inclusion with the group - which means any group, starting first with your own family, and widening out from there to include all of society - means a certain amount of compromising; and how much or how little, and whether the inward or outward consequences are worth it, remains a highly individual question for each of us.

Russ Manley said...

(Continued - I must be blathering, Blogger cut me off)

The people you quote from the book could not envisage at that point in time our world today: where Senators, Congressmen, federal judges, big-city mayors, even a Prime Minister or two in other lands, are openly gay and openly accepted. Nor, in 1972, could they truly believe - though some might dare to wish - that in their lifetimes gays could legal marry anywhere in the wide world. I know, because I was there in 1972 myself, albeit deeply closeted. Even in 1980, when I came out, all these things were still unbelievably remote, unattainable, futuristic ideals, as I well recall from discussions in the Gay Rap Group on campus.

But the point I'm trying to make is that many of these selfsame gay liberationists, if they survived the plague and are still alive, have now long since happily settled into a more or less suburban existence, and are quite happy with it. I would be willing to bet you a hundred dollars that the vast majority are no longer nearly as radical or in favor of Gay Terminal Uniqueness as they were when the book was published.

Because we do want to sit at Grandma's Christmas table with everyone else. We do want that pretty little house with the double garage and the hot tub out back - poodle optional. We do want to marry the person we love, and we do want, though it's the last thing that will arrive, to be able to walk through the local grocery store hand in hand with him - and nobody will so much as blink at us, or care.

Some people write even now, in 2013, as if ALL gay people SHOULD be drinking, drugging, and sexing in some filthy bar off a mean street in some urban wilderness, with any and all comers, always ready to rush into the streets, burn cop cars, and shout FUCK THE PIGS at the top of their voices, swaying to a disco backbeat all the while in their pink gloves and garters.

I say, phooey. I have never wanted to be a radical, a protester, an activist, a disturber of the peace. However, the circumstances of life and the society in which I have lived have forced me to be that to some extent, for a good cause. But rebelling just to be rebelling, for the sheer hell of it, just because you can - well, that's pretty damn childish to speak plainly, don't you think? What is more dreary and pointless than the rebel without a worthwhile cause? A tiresome child throwing a tantrum.

The dearest desire of my heart - of course not everyone shares it - was always simply to find one good man to make a happy, contented home with, for all my life. And I had that, finally, for a little while, and we must be thankful for all blessings big and small.

But I do take issue with the thought that Gay = Perpetual Hellraiser. I take a very big exception to that, indeed. That's craziness, and in my view a very unhealthy state of mind. That's not to say we must all burn our sequins and feathers, literal or metaphoric, and turn into football-and-NASCAR fans, not by any means. But there’s something to be said for belonging, if we can without losing our souls.

Frank said...

Russ, thanks for your thoughtful and thought provoking comments.

...And that is really the crux of the issue, isn't it? ...that they (families, schools, churches, society, the military, employers) have so often made it a condition of belonging that we, in fact, must "lose our souls".

Stan said...

I'm disappointed in much of today's youth or "activists" who want so much to be like straight couples with marriage and kids and such. The issue I thought that's been lost is an alternate life style.


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