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Saturday, December 31, 2011

 
Oral History (You Should Pardon the Expression). My friend and fellow gay militant John Lauritsen foned a few weeks ago to say that he had bought a videocamera and wants to interview me as part of an oral-history project he is undertaking, to record the memories and observations of significant people in the Stonewall Era. I am one of those people, having founded a militant gay men's organization on April 1st, 1969, almost two full months before the Stonewall Riots. Homosexuals Intransigent! was not replaced by new organizations after Stonewall, but continued to contribute to the development of the post-Stonewall mentality of gay liberation (lowercase G and L).
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John had become all too aware that the pioneers of the modern gay-rights movement are now in their 60s and 70s, and beginning to die off in significant numbers. We've already lost the men who were in their 40s or older in 1969. John wants to make sure that those of us still alive don't die without leaving some kind of record of their existence and contributions.
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I had mentioned to John something I have thought to do, which is to have some of us oldtimers put together, in a book, their thoughts as to what we want most for younger gay people to learn from our experience. The tentative, working title for such a book of memoirs and advice is "Before We Go", with some subtitle like "Advice for Today's Gay Men [or Gay Men of the Future] from 20th Century Gay Pioneers".
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HI! was the ONLY organization in the United States that permitted membership only to gay men. John, who has studied earlier gay movements in Europe, said there were some male-only organizations in Europe before the Stonewall Era, but I'm not sure any survived into and beyond the Stonewall Era, much less to today.
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I have always been appalled and astonished that almost all 'gay' organizations are organized heterosexually, men-and-women-together-now! That never made the slitest bit of sense to me. But, then, I'm only a genius (near-genius? — in IQ-testing terms). How are gay men and lesbians supposed to press the case that they are entitled to refuse heterosexual sex if they accept heterosexual forms of organization?
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How can (gay) men and (lesbian) women march TOGETHER to assert the right not to be pushed at each other? It's insane.
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And how are gay men supposed to be able to talk about their deepest, sexual feelings about men, in the presence of women, whom they do NOT want in their sex life in any way — not physically, not as eavesdroppers on their conversations and confessions?
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The utter insensitivity of the organizers of 'gay' organizations — or gay and lesbian, or LGBT, or LBGTQ, LGBTQI, or any other crazy, artificial groups — to the need of gay men to be with their own kind and be able to confide their 'darkest' secrets to other men, has always astonished me. How do people who sometimes get haughtily indignant about how 'repressed' in dealing with their feelings straight men are supposed to be, absolutely and brutally ignore the need of their own kind for privacy from women and others unlike themselves? Well, people in general are stupid, I suppose, but it's a special kind of WILLFUL stupidity to create organizations in which the members cannot feel themselves to be among people like themselves, with whom they can relax and be open about their feelings, feelings about which they have had terrible guilts for the bulk of their lives.
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In any case, John and I may meet sometime after the weather warms up, either in New York, to which he would travel from Boston, or in Boston, to which I would drive to be interviewed and to have him show me around one of the Nation's great and historical cities. Boston is the Nation's second-oldest major city, after New York. My city, Newark, is third-oldest, right after Boston. I can get into Midtown Manhattan (oldest major city in the Nation) by car in little more than a half hour, or by public transportation in less than an hour, so meeting John there would be little problem.
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I spent three days in Boston in 1964, working most of the time, and seeing almost nothing outside of work. China detonated its first nuclear device during those three days, and I thought, playfully, that I should never leave town (NYC, at the time) if this kind of thing is going to happen.
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I told John that I was comfortable with waiting till warm weather, since I don't feel in imminent danger of dying. My mother died at age 90, from a medical mistake, absent which she might have lived years longer. My father's mother died at 96, tho her mind was not in good shape in her last years. My father died at 79, and his father at 81, both from cancer. I'm only 67, as of last week, so I think I'll make it to the spring. Were I superstitious, I might say "iN-shah, Allah" or the English equivalent, "God willing". But I'm not.
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I have put onto the Internet many of the things I wrote or edited on behalf of Homosexuals Intrasigent! and other groups I organized, in the period 1969-1975, or a bit later. Some of those materials are on a free website that will not vanish in a month due to nonpayment of webhosting fees, if something should happen to me. Rather, they will remain online for years. I have other materials to put onto those websites, but have not yet done so because there's a lot of typing, and thus time I don't have, involved in doing so (plus creating hyperlinks within and between publications and websites).
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I recently investigated whether there is any free speech-to-text program I could use for this task. I found one, thru C/NET, but it requires a lot of "training" of the program before it can work well, and I haven't yet found the time to do the training. Worse, I also recently developed laryngitis, as too frequently happens with me during the winter. (This mostly keeps me from singing, which I ordinarily do quite well (I spent years in choruses, within and outside school) or shouting at my (three) cats. I can speak, for at least brief periods, tho not always comfortably.) Thus, speaking to add materials to gay websites might not be easier than typing them.
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Memories are curious things, and not always reliable, esp. at a distance. For instance, in recent years I had forgotten that a formal "second" was required for my proposal that the weekend of events to be publicized by the organizing committee for the first march commemorating Stonewall be called "Gay Pride Weekend" rather than "Gay Power Weekend". I saw only in reviewing materials from 1971 that a guy named Jerry Hoose, whom I cannot even picture (tho John remembers him), seconded my motion, before the committee overall voted approval without discussion.
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So perhaps I should read some of the things I and others wrote during the Stonewall Era before I venture to Boston for my date with a videocam.
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I have, within the past three years, been contacted by two men I was crazy about in the 1960s. One was my only "lover", tho we lived in separate cities — and countries (U.S. and Canada) — and saw each other only a few times in the few months we considered each other lovers. Normand (French form of the name "Norman") was born in Bathurst, New Brunswick (a French-speaking area of Canada), and lived for a while in Montreal before he decided he wanted to move to Vancouver, BC. We met in Toronto, as he was making his way west. I was just doing the gay-tourist thing from my home in New York City. He then dallied in Toronto for a couple of months longer than he had initially intended, and visited me in Manhattan before we broke up and he resumed his journey west. He has lived in Vancouver all these years. We reconnected in early 2009, and spent a weekend together (socially) in Montreal in July 2009. I never stopped loving him, in a fond rather than sexual way; and he apparently always held me in fond memory too.
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The other man from my youth who has contacted me did so only a few weeks ago. We went to college in Manhattan together, and I was crazy about him, but he was functionally heterosexual, so I put him out of my mind. It turns out that he later had homosexual "encounters", and is keen on a straight guy of his own, in Toronto! — who is as unavailable to him as Dana was to me.
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I guess I make quite an impression on some people, to be sought out more than 40 years later. It would have been nice if we had been able to get together and stay together all this time instead of reconnecting after decades of distance.
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In any case, I don't know how John Lauritsen will use the materials he creates for his oral-history project. Perhaps he can create a website at which these videos can be watched, perhaps even downloaded for the use of scholars and ordinary gay men. Perhaps he will find a way to create transcripts by machine, or thru volunteer typists, to create a written record from oral interviews.
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I just hope John gets to the people he wants to 'immortalize' before they croak. (Ribbet, ribbet.)



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