Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 19 May 1997

"I'VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT YOU, WALT WHITMAN"

Come, Celebrate the Sixties, the Seventies and Today


by Jack Nichols


 

Like a queer Boy Scout, I felt well prepared for the Seventies. At the decade's start I was already seated behind two Manhattan desks--both at ground zero in the revolution. As the first managing editor of the nation's most outrageous sex journal, co-authoring its vanguard gay column and as the co-editor of GAY "America's 1st Gay Weekly," a vision of change danced, like a Sugar Plum Fairy, through my head. In a January, 1970 column, with my co-writer, Lige, I suggested, as strategy, greater infusions of humor into the gay movement. Though anger could be important, we knew, it might also distort the features of those who frowned, distorting as well the impressions of observers. On TV and radio I'd begun to exchange my somewhat serious 60's movement demeanor--one concerned with "oppression"--for a more personable willingness to laugh and joke. Lige had inspired my best revolutionary intentions with his wide smile, a smile which took pleasure in its own beauty. Meeting us two years earlier, the heterosexually-inclined publisher, Al Goldstein, famed for his impudence, had written (more to tweak me than Lige) :

When I first met Lige and Jack they were much too serious and seldom laughed. After seven months of servitude with SCREW and sharing in the healthy atmosphere of our zany newspaper, they occasionally crack a smile ala Ed Sullivan, which proves that even card-carrying homosexuals can learn the joys of taking nothing seriously, including themselves.

In a later article, written during the final week of 1969, publisher Goldstein predicted what would happen to me during the 1970's. I would, he said, run for the office of the presidency on a "two fags in every bed" platform, and I'd spice up my campaign oratory by outfitting the Marines in Chantilly Lace and codpieces, dropping God to the rank of 'closet queen' in national slogans and announcing that "In KY We Trust." In 1978, he predicted, the first homosexual astronaut couple will be ejaculated into space and poppers will be the propellant. Unfortunately, he foresaw, this would be "the first failure of the Nichols administration," since the orbiters would disappear from link-up by opting to go cruising on the moon. "The show business event of the gay 70's will be the J. Edgar Hoover and Tiny Tim elopement....Nichols will have been elected to the Pink House by 1976 with Steve Reeves (the muscled former Mr. Universe) as Vice-president and Nichols will create the scandal of '71 by divorcing Lige with Buckley (SCREW's straight co-publisher) named as "the other woman." The Roman Catholic Church, said futurist Goldstein, will be appalled at the use of anal transplants for future rectal pregnancies and "the Pope will say that childbirth outside of gay marriage is a further breakdown of social virtue."

Before Goldstein had hired me in '68, I'd hauled to Manhattan a load of "Homophile Movement" baggage, to which I'd added several new satchels, most of which were marked "counterculture." Having co-founded, in 1961, the Mattachine Society of Washington (D.C.) and in 1965 The Mattachine Society of Florida, Inc., my baggage included not only ideology, but strategy as well. Direct action--quite natural for a budding young anarchist--was one prized package I carried. I'd organized, through Washington's Mattachine, the capital city's first gay demonstration. A famed photo wherein I'm leading the second such demonstration at the White House pops up in historic exhibits, making me today a walking museum piece, a living relic from an unforgettable era. Ed Alwood's amazingly researched book, Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the Media (Columbia University Press) highlights Mike Wallace's CBS interview with me in the first national CBS documentary on homosexuality. There I am in 1966, the happy homo, talking about how sane I feel. I'd also worked to advance other activist agendas. In 1963, as recorded by historian John D'Emilio, I made an unprecedented written request circulated among my gay movement peers: that we movement folk take a public stand against the "sickness" dogma of the psychiatric establishment. My missive had said:

The mental attitude of our own people toward themselves, that they are not well---that they are not whole, that they are LESS THAN COMPLETELY HEALTHY--is responsible for UNTOLD NUMBERS OF PERSONAL TRAGEDIES AND WARPED LIVES. By failing to take a definite stand, a strong stand...I believe that you will not only weaken the movement ten-fold, but that you will fail in your duty to homosexuals who need more than anything else to see themselves in a better light.

In 1964, as chair of Washington Mattachine's Committee on Religious Concerns I initiated pioneering East Coast dialogues with clergy who came from different points on the Judaeo-Christian compass.

Though these pioneering activist credits were substantial, my greatest asset was the fervent companionship of Lige Clarke, who--quoting Walt Whitman-- publicly called me "the sharer of (his) roving life." Becoming America's best known (living) same-sex couple, we represented common hopes, projecting healthy images of loving males who were busy together at creating an ideal, fun-filled existence, not just for ourselves but for others. Lige, the handsome, wholesome son of Kentucky's hills had been, when we met, an editor at the Pentagon in the office of the Army Joint Chief of Staff. Even then, with his top secret security clearances, he'd been proudly at my side, helping to initiate many activist events, like the White House demonstration. Upon meeting in 1964, we'd deliberately planned our activist future together. The Gay Insider, U.S.A. (the first book of those "trips across gay America" genre) said of us that our columns were known as an "upbeat, no-nonsense, unapologetic, vibrant, sexy, and liberated weekly message that was gobbled up by thousands, rendering (us) overnight the most celebrated and recognizable homosexuals in America....witty, wise, straightforward and pretty."

Lige accepted such sweet compliments with perfect ease, but I--for a period--worried unnecessarily about their implications. Though certainly a young ham, I was more a piglet, privately squealing, on occasion, because I was still somewhat unprepared for Manhattan mini-fame. I liked that we'd begun to reach masses with our sexual liberation raps and that as we walked through the Village strangers greeted us by name. But there were other times when I longed for invisibility, for privacy. Lige, on the other hand, though he was four years my junior, had brought his Kentucky joie de vivre to the Big Apple, flashing his incomparable mountain-man smile through thick and thin. And, though younger, Lige was undoubtedly wise. He had hill-country wisdom. Sometimes, when we took pure LSD, I saw, as the Gay Insider, U.S.A. had aptly put it, that Lige was "a very old soul...into oriental mysticism" while then I was still more like a convert. Yes, Lige automatically knew all about the happy-go-lucky calm I was perpetually seeking. Through the years we lived together and loved, he patiently waited--time and again--until I too found my way, struggling to jump into his spirited domain. His patience came, I suppose, from his knowing I wouldn't give up until I was over the top, freefalling safely alongside him.

We often called ourselves, as the radical dancer Isadora Duncan did, "spiritual children of Walt Whitman's." To us this meant we couldn't be strategists only or mere ideologues, and that "arguments, similes, and rhymes" would always--by themselves-- prove insufficient if we hoped to convince ourselves or others of certain views. "Do you need a book to join you in your nonsense?" old Walt had asked. Even so, Whitman's great book, I continually insisted, helped. "Affection," he assured us, "will solve the problems of freedom yet." Leaves of Grass announced that those like the poet could be most convincing when they effectively used what is known as personal presence. A favorite Whitman line Lige whispered to me whenever gay and lesbian activists fell into heated arguments, said "while they discuss I am silent and go bathe and admire myself."

Our vision of gay liberation was, aside from civil liberties concerns, a personalized one. It began with the self. A large gilded statue of the Buddha sat with us on the chairless floor of our thickly carpeted living room where Lige encouraged me to join him in a daily relaxing regimen of yoga. This statue, we explained to skeptical friends, was not so much a statement of belief as a potent reminder that correct posture--sitting or walking--counts most. We did see some of Buddha's wisdom as relevant to our lives. "We are what we think, having become what we thought," was one Buddhist canon that we translated into our own idiom: "We become what we consciously absorb." My poetry-quoting grandfather had taught me this in childhood. Values, he'd indicated, become our very marrow if we repeat them again and again. From my earliest days he'd cleverly inculcated in me those he loved best, zapping me unawares with daily quotes from the poetry of Robert Burns. "We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet for Auld Lang Syne."

The Buddha had also reportedly said that "It is not what others do or do not do that is my concern; it is what I do, and what I do not do, that is my concern." A major personal concern, Lige insisted, should be the awareness of one's breathing. Even so, we were never purists. When Lige's indefatigable admirer, Foster Gunnison, Jr. came to chat, we hauled a folding chair from the closet so the older man could sit puffing on his ever-present, ever-lasting cigar. Seated lotus style at his feet, we joined him puffing, not on cigars, but on a hookah, a water pipe filled with marijuana. During lulls in our conversations we'd stare dreamily at the soft lights and the tiny neons darting about in our aquarium.

 

Our comrades-in-arms from old homophile movement days (1961-68) had begun to seem to us, by 1970, concerned mostly by matters we'd already considered and, in some cases, bypassed. Foster Gunnison, Jr., for example, had been struggling to turn an ideologically disparate NACHO (North American Conference of Homophile Organizations) into the only national gay organization with "properly credentialed" members. Such thinking, we observed, contrasted with the less structured approaches of an emerging counterculture which would have labeled Foster's struggle a linear one. Somehow, we rightly knew, his was a doomed organization. There was a larger battlefield, the culture, on which we'd chosen to emerge. "Its the culture we've got to change, the culture," squeaked Prescott Townsend, the elderly founder of Boston's pioneering gay group. Assimilationist gay leaders had, earlier, purposely kept Townsend--because of his hippie fashion-plate beard and tweed jacket--from enjoying a gay movement photo opportunity. By 1970, however, gay movement shorthairs and "proper" affectionados of suits and ties would, with but a few exceptions, be able to influence only, or at least primarily, their peers. Lige and I, reflecting a new generation, had--before 1970-- grown our locks, donning those fashionable breeches of the time, bell bottoms. No longer did I have what Whitman called "the blanched, shaved face of an orthodox citizen." Lige's long hair, a feared symbol to conservatives who worried about too much likening of males and females, fell in sunny blondness over his shoulders. As he walked proudly past straight-identified hard-hats mending Manhattan streets, I noted with satisfaction that many would cruise him, thinking, it appeared, the unthinkable.

The finest flowers of the emerging counterculture, those human blooms to whom tactile contact meant affectionate sexual and thus social healing, had, in great part, dispensed with hesitancies created by old linear steps. Lige and I wrote that erotic sequential plans, always "1-2-3," were bores, and that "3-2-1" behaviors might best be seen not as causes for a "disorder" alarm bell, but as wise non-sequential bows to nature's unstructured prompting. Must there always be a dinner date, followed by a movie, leading to an assertive male's arm draped over the back of a seat, moving thence to mouth-to-mouth kisses and finally to a wham-bam dive straight into the missionary position? Couldn't there be greater variety, an unheralded, spontaneous sexual buffet, perhaps, one where delights are tasted in no special order? The linear past had led also to the making of strict categories such as male and female, straight and gay, old and young, big and small, rich and poor, black and white. These categories were rightly seen--during this Camelot-like era--as a way of limiting maximized affectional contact. Germaine Greer, author of The Female Eunuch, preached that in an ideal world we'd be able to "ball" with the fat, the foolish, the elderly, the bald, and the disabled. The "uptight," repressive, shameful anti-sexualism of the past would, it was hoped, melt away. A widespread realization was beginning to take center stage: namely that each moment of tactile contact is an opportunity to build a more relaxed and adhesive society. The counterculture deliberately introduced the word "ball" to bypass old-world sex terms. "Screw," (Greer argued in the pages of the same-named magazine for which Lige and I were columnists) is very much a penetrative word that ignores--to sexuality's detriment-- hosts of non-penetrative, non-procreative possibilities. By making penetration its main focus, the word "screw" draws attention away from more tender tactile ecstasies which do not fit into its goal-oriented macho gusto.

Al Goldstein may or may not have missed Greer's point. But early issues of his newspaper, he knew, sold wildly, in part, because of the shock value in its name. At first he gave ample editorial space to feminist writers like Leah Fritz, Mary Phillips, and Claudia Dreyfus, but he often outraged certain ideological feminists with his own brand of satire, once suggesting that its nice to keep women around the house, especially if a man has a big back yard. "My wife is like a new car," he told Playboy's interviewer in 1974, " I bought and paid for her and I don't want any body else driving her until I've had her for at least 6 years. Then I might not mind if some other guy puts a dent in her." Few were able to appreciate what motivated Goldstein's zany quotes, or to see how he could demonstrate--through extremism- those common thoughts left mostly unspoken by socially-conditioned males.

In any case, when Goldstein, his partner Buckley were hauled into court, lawyers defended them from numerous obscenity charges by focusing on the "socially redeeming" content of Lige Clarke's and Jack Nichols' weekly "Homosexual Citizen" column, one that had appeared, because of Goldstein's foresight, starting with SCREW's first issue. "I'd like you guys to do a gay column," he'd said to me and Lige. "I'll never censor anything you say. I hate censorship." Al Goldstein thus became the first heterosexually-inclined publisher in America to offer meaningful space to gay-identified thinkers. Though we didn't know it at the time, it was this invite that would catapult us in the 1970's to Manhattan mini-fame, later scattering mention of us nationwide. I appeared naked in SCREW's 13th issue, making love with Lige in mini-kama sutra photos that Goldstein knew, because they were going on newsstands, to be historic. Beneath his beautifully shadowed lead photo of us kissing, Goldstein affixed what in hindsight appears to have been the most tender prose of his career:

Warm flesh burning into wet lips, Lovers fingers intertwining and searching beneath the yoke of body apartness, a man loves a man is the same journey as a man loves a woman and a woman loves a woman, a search and a find, a giving and a taking infused with the desire to reach out and get beyond the self. A trip into the deepest recesses of selfhood. A man loves a man is the first pictorial presentation of actual homosexual love ever permitted the light of day in the United States. We publish it as an example of the love between two people.

Within two months SCREW's weekly circulation had risen to 150,000, and both the straight and gay-identified masses had their first peeks into the minds of two seasoned gay-identified activists who'd managed to make a ready transition from bland assimilationist ploys to provocative counterculture tweaks. Today it is little known that this SCREW column of ours produced the first commercial gay journalists' accounting of the Stonewall rebellion, written, as stated in the article, on July 8th, a week after the famed uprising and five years to the day since Lige and I had met. Unlike all other accounts of the event, it contained a rousing "call to arms," one that would reflect an integrationist (as opposed to a gay ghetto) view as we moved decisively into the next decade. We wrote:

The revolution in Sheridan Square must step beyond its present boundaries. The homosexual revolution is only part of a larger revolution sweeping through all segments of society. We hope that "Gay Power" will not become a call for separation, but for sexual integration, and that the young activists will read, study, and make themselves acquainted with all of the facts which will help them carry the sexual revolt triumphantly into the councils of the U.S. Government, into the anti-homosexual churches, into the offices of anti-homosexual psychiatrists, into the city government, and into the state legislature which make our manner of love-making a crime. It is time to push the homosexual revolution to its logical conclusion. We must crush tyranny wherever it exists and join forces with those who would assist in the utter destruction of the puritanical, repressive, anti-sexual Establishment.

Though we greeted 1970 as the Editors of GAY, our purpose, as we stated in GAY's first editorial, would be to prepare the way for a world in which labels like homosexual and heterosexual would pass away "leaving human beings who, like this publication, will be liked and appreciated not because of sexual orientation, but because they are themselves interesting."

Though our cohorts in the homophile movement had mostly approached homosexuality as a minority condition, we did not. The counterculture, which included many who were heterosexually-identified, had done more, we observed, than the established gay movement eliminating anti-gay prejudices, gender differences, and a general anti-sexual climate that was, we reasoned, much responsible for gay bashing. For an extended period there was, in the late Sixties and early Seventies, a divine epoch, namely the era of bisexual chic. Certain young heterosexually-identified counterculture types sometimes went so far as to express heartfelt apologies for what they thought was their personal "failure" to perform homosexually. A much larger number performed admirably, causing extreme consternation among conservative writers like Joseph Epstein who told in Harper's how his stepson, who ran with hippies, saw homosexual acts as little more than complimentary behavior, a "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours," attitude the boy seemed not to question.

A decade before the counterculture emerged, my own perspective on strict gay and straight divisions had already been seriously affected. A handsome military type, a well-built gay sailor, showed me how readily available were so-called straight macho males. Inviting them home with us, he demonstrated how he was able to coax them into every conceivable sexual position, though he held to two strict rules: don't try to kiss and don't talk about it in the morning. Otherwise, I observed, he got them to perform receptive acts, both oral and anal. In the midst of passion they'd call out, "You feel almost as good as a girl," maintaining their macho facades. After getting such lessons, I myself, for a period during my 22nd year, became something of a virtuoso among these straight-identified men, though because of their requirement, namely I play macho facade games, I soon got bored. In the late 60's and early 70's, however, straight-identified men in the counterculture behaved similarly but were far more interesting than the available "straights" of a decade before. The difference was that men in the counterculture were eager to show affection and tenderness-- as part of the hippie ideology with its commitment to lovemaking on a planetary scale. Rather than flying from affection, they encouraged it, and were able to do so with greater awareness because the counterculture, fueled by its psychedelic drugs, had left inhibition in the dust, giving rise to an expanded tactile dimension that everyday men, with their undue focus on anatomical correctness, had missed for decades. There had clearly erupted among counterculture men unprecedented celebrations on behalf of their ability to touch others--male or female-- in a gentle manner. This ability, they knew, saved them from being tarred by the worst possible epithet used among hippies: being "uptight."

The idea of better integrating gay and straight identified masses, has, like Rip Van Winkle, only recently been reawakened. The term "homosexual" is of recent origin (1869), and, since Jonathan Ned Katz titled his 1995 book, The Invention of Heterosexuality, and Harvard University Professor, Marjorie Garber has written Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life, there is once again a consciousness that our "homosexual" minority has maximum potential for unlimited growth. Assimilationists prefer to see homosexuality and heterosexuality as unbridgable genetic divisions, though the recent popularity of the genetic perspective is only the latest resurrection of a century-long debate between social constructionists and biological determinists. My own experience puts me in the social constructionist camp. Biological determinists tie everybody dangerously to what they assume is a pre-determined status quo, thus maintaining that status quo.

True homosexual equality means an equality that is free to encourage same-sex lovemaking, just as heterosexual supremacists encourage their behavior, and to multiply the public appearances of potent same-sex role models, to be seen by people of all ages. Conservatives may indeed call themselves biological determinists, but when vital questions like gay visibility that promotes equality are raised, they fly quickly to the social constructionist camp, fearing the truth of the old adage: monkey see, monkey do. If gay role models come forward, the conservatives foresee huge prairie fires of queer behavior roaring from sea to shining sea and across the "fruited" plains. This is why they demand that such behavior be kept closeted. Gay activist assimilationists attempt to allay this fear by insisting gay men and lesbians won't "recruit." But does this insistence promote true equality? Who among us questions heterosexual recruitment? Since overpopulation is unquestionably the world's most fearsome prospect, somebody should.

Lige and I told our mostly "straight" SCREW audiences that integration is not only about living in the same neighborhoods with us or socializing in public gatherings. We boldly raised shameless banners suggesting sexual amalgamation. Such calls hardly seemed outrageous or radical when, in fact, the counterculture had already greeted same-sex impulses with open arms. Thus, actual conduct predated the raising of our banners. What we'd derived from observation we'd simply put into written form, challenging society to openly encourage what many in its midst were already doing.

Psychedelic drugs--until the unfortunate re-introduction of non-psychedelic "uppers" and "downers"-- had opened the way to the bypassing of specific sexual demands. "Just what do you like to do in bed?" was not a typical psychedelic question. Instead, the psychedelics set the stage for surprise and spontaneity, leading would-be lovers away from what might best be called specified or conditional love. Conditional love-making was what the mainstream offered. Its devotees swam in that stream armed with genital spear guns all pointing to the old missionary position. Counterculture types celebrated a wider range of behaviors. Randolfe Wicker produced popular slogan buttons that included, "Cunnilingus Spoken Here," "If It Feels Good, Do It," and "More Deviation, Less Population." The names of Batman and Robin were, on one button, encircled by a valentine heart. As Wicker's one-time sales manager, I'd thrilled at my pre-70's opportunity to "civilize" America's East Coast, spreading hundreds of thousands of such buttons from Norfolk to Newport.

Two major realizations accompanied Lige and me into the 70's, realizations that were little appreciated among most of our gay lib cohorts. The first involved conventional male roles. Conventional heterosexual men, we'd noted, hoping to appear "manly" to their peers, waxed competitive, unfeeling, violence-prone and controlling. The hippie counterculture with which we identified showed disdain for this mindset, calling its many adherents "control freaks." Male-conditioned values seemed to fuel the makeup of politicians in the very Establishment we'd disowned, allowing us to critique Richard Nixon's rigid postures as a prime example of what it meant to be "uptight." In SCREW's May 23, 1969 issue, we'd written a manifesto for change, also making use, at an early time, of a word coined by our good friend, Dr. George Weinberg: homophobia. We viewed society's "need" to promote homophobia, we said, as the central linchpin of its "masculine" straitjacket. To keep that straitjacket in working order there had to be a threat, a hellfire fear, namely that one must not--under any circumstances--be thought attracted to one's own sex. To be other-sex directed was the prime test of "true" masculinity. Because same-sex fears had been erected, we wrote, men, to prove themselves straight, marched in uniform precision, adhering to a dehabilitating and dangerous male ethic. This prevented them from getting close to one another and pushed "natural affections under rugs of shame, keeping buoyant masculine friendships, such as those which marked earlier historical epochs, from developing...." One of the truly great and lasting effects of the hippie ethic was," we stated, "its exposure and its attempted destruction of outworn 'masculinism.' " In place of masculinism we opted for an androgynous race: "To our way of thinking," we wrote, "a truly complete person is neither extremely masculine nor extremely feminine. There is a balance of the various elements and a free interplay."

Our second realization occurred when, in SCREW's offices, we received a photo, one sent in the mail by an anonymous fan. It showed only his penis. On the reverse side he'd written, "This is me." The sender's blatant over-identification with his singular genital helped us coin a term for his restrictive malady: anatomical overfocus. Each man, we knew, was a being much more expansive than his penis.

Our alternative approach to monogamy was hardly as harsh as that of ideologues who regularly derided it. We were, after all, a longtime couple. But by 1970 we'd realized that it seemed foolish to ask, "Has anyone else shown an interest in you besides me?" We joined in putting, not without some trepidation, the counterculture's hex on sexual jealousy, calling it a neurotic disease. Not everyone, we knew, could construct lifelong monogamous relationships, and since they must not be left wanting, we had to deal with this fact while offering them life's best hopes. Lige knew much more about this before I did. "Lover, husband, or wife," he said, "are meaningless words unless they mean friend." Thus, we announced, humanity must be encouraged to learn and explore the intimate joys of friendship, and such friendship does not necessarily need to include sex. Sex, from this perspective, wouldn't be a demand or a necessity, but rather a natural and possibly spontaneous expression of things felt. Our counterculture roots also forbade our insistence on any specific "scene" or "plan" to accompany "anticipated" sex. In the sexual domain, we argued, spontaneity must be kept fully alive. "Don't anticipate," Lige counseled, "and don't assume." Our column in SCREW-- which generally followed what we were learning together--repeatedly emphasized this non-sequential wisdom. "The kiss is not a step toward sex," Lige explained, "it is sex. Foreplay, the way many think of it, is a wrong-headed concept. There are no sexual steps to a goal," he believed, "the means is the goal." This view helped color many days in our lives with lush splashes of eroticized romance.

By 1972, we'd written our first book, one whose title was expressive of our caring for each other: I Have More Fun With You Than Anybody. This sentiment allowed us full access to others whether sexually or in the sharing of time for platonic friendships, often, especially with Lige, to those in need. We wrote that "our sexiest moments together wouldn't always be the same. We're as horny as our changing perspectives, excited by each other not because we have sex, but because we share values. Affection, humor, honesty, and curiosity are the best aphrodisiacs." Coupled values, we said, kept our bedroom door open. We expressed wonder about those who used sex freedom to bicker:

We watched in dismay as couples we knew misused their freedom. In the name of sexual liberation, they were often hateful and unkind to each other. They used sexual freedom as a power tool, slamming away at one another, releasing their hostilities and insecurities. "You screwed around last night, so I'm going to screw around tonight and try to make that number you couldn't get your hands on." As we saw it, we wrote, "not only did such people misunderstand each other, but they misunderstood the good, sweet nature of touch and feeling itself. There was contempt in their voices, not only for sex, but for the "sex objects" they hoped to "make."

We determined we'd not sit in a dark corner, hugging each other like frightened monkeys, afraid to let each other to walk freely into realms of spontaneous experience. The counsels of Whitman and Lao Tzu went contrary to all demands calling for exclusionary behavior. The Chinese sage had said that "things which go together naturally don't need to be tied." "Do you think you have caught me?" laughed Whitman, "Behold! Already I have escaped from you!" We began to celebrate, armed with Whitman's Song of Myself, and Song of the Open Road, the primacy of self-love. "There is no sweeter flesh than sticks to my own bones," he'd announced. Self care and self awareness would best give one the ability to care for another, we argued. A lover who doesn't love himself and care for himself first, stumbling forward to be adored, comes to his task ill equipped. "You shall not allow the hold of those who spread their reach'd hands towards you," advised Whitman. We knew that the self-contained person, assured within, would make the best lover.

"Make this book of yours not only a memoir about your philosophy of relationship," our publisher had said over a pre-contract lunch, "but make it a memoir of the times." Since no other openly gay couple had written such a book, I Have More Fun With You Than Anybody was the first of a genre and a product of our experiences at the epicenter of Manhattan's counterculture. We wrote:

We began to realize that the nature of our affection for each other might be similar in some ways to the companionship we enjoyed with good friends when we were young. In childhood we were both explorers, curious, and adventuresome. Our good friends shared adventures with us, popping in an out of caves, of haunted houses, of winding paths and wooded thickets. We were builders, constructing tree huts, underground passages. We were rascals, taking special delight in surprising our elders. We looked out to the world beyond us, going on expeditions, riding our bikes as far as we could peddle, before we returned, exhausted, to our homes....

 

Our children are both old and young, both bright and dull witted, our acquaintances and friends. They're those we counsel and assist in times of distress; they're our thoughts, those which reproduce their kind and may make, hopefully, for a better world. We learned to save ourselves first, if we're to save others. That the way to do is to be. To live our beliefs, rather than worrying about how to spread them or how to convince others of their validity. Gay liberation, for us, would not be a cause or an organization, but living in accordance with the best we can discover, both alone and together.

In GAY we published a number of articles about Walt Whitman, and, personally, gave him praise. An interview published (1971) in a book about the underground sex tabloids (The Dirtiest Dozen by Derek Miles) found me attempting to say how we hoped to see GAY's writers express themselves:

Really, where our heads are at is not so much in being labeled or categorized sexually, such as homosexuality or heterosexuality (but rather) we're much more interested in sexuality as a sensual thing....a total involvement of the body, and so forth....relaxing...learning to touch and to feel and to breathe...and not to feel that sex is so much of a thing...that this must be done or that must be done in order to have a good time. Because I think that sensuality goes far beyond specific sexual preferences. In fact, we're beginning to realize that sexual preferences--like somebody who enjoys only people with blond hair or only somebody with brunette hair, or only younger people or only older people, that all the sexual preferences are really sexual inhibitions. They keep people from relating to each other on a much more basic level--basic levels being touch and sensitivity and things of that sort, which take place between personalities and bodies. That's where GAY is, really.

In a plenary speech at the 26th Annual Conference on World Affairs, held on my 35th birthday at the University of Colorado, I called for recognition of Walt Whitman as the needed "fountainhead", of gay liberation and of culture itself. Simultaneously, in our newspaper, Lige wrote at length about the benefits of yoga. He said:

Sexual technique is very much a secondary matter while attitude becomes primary. If one's attitude is freed from the fetters of specific aims and particular goals, and if the mind is attuned to the flow and rhythms of life, technique establishes itself automatically.

As an essayist I utilized my growing knowledge of Taoist and Zen-consciousness, akin to Whitman's own. Even so, GAY was marked by editorial anarchy, meaning that we accepted pieces from a great variety of viewpoints. A well-known gay activist, writing under the pseudonym, Mark Savage, delivered a defense of S&M. Lige and I disagreed with him, but SCREW's freewheeling style had made us perpetually unfriendly to censorship, feeling obliged to give all factions their say. I began to note however, that certain characteristics went with S&M mindsets, and that those with these mindsets had begun to take certain deliberate steps--in commercial domains--to propagandize their tastes. Among 70's males their success became phenomenal, mostly, I'd say, because their strategy cleverly played on the newly "liberated" masses' fear of being thought stereotypical, like drag queens. "We are men," said these masses, "and we are not effeminate. We are masculine, just like other men." S&M affectionadoes helped emphasize old fashioned "masculinity" with a host of accouterments, including boots, leather, and motorcycle drag. Little did I then realize, however, how widespread would be their success at winning converts. Most of these converts, taking their first steps away from centuries of sexual repression, had little idea what liberation meant. They still carried--being influenced by religious scruples-- much socially-induced guilt, and their lack of self-esteem made them ready marks for sado-masochistic missionaries.

The S&M missionaries claimed that their "rituals" much like the more violent sports, offered little more than mere games, harmless outlets for otherwise violent impulses, keeping, like therapy, that seething violence within the context of consent. Contrarily, I worried that such games encouraged their players to turn a blind eye toward non-consenting violence in the wider culture. Violent sports like football, I argued in a 1976 men's lib panel addressing leading educational bureaucrats in the U.S. government, encourage violent behavior. Monkey see, monkey do. Sado-masochists, making objects of their "lovers" seemed to ignore the axiom which says that what we do on a personal level often reflects what we might do outside the bedroom and on a larger scale.

Much of the S&M scene in New York revolved around the Hudson River waterfront and the meatpacking district. No sooner had the dust of the Stonewall rebellion settled than there came into prominence--with dubious financing--a variety of seedy backroom bars. They were dark, dingy firetraps, housing clusters of anonymous orgyists. They did not smell of self-esteem, but of money for the mob. Self-esteem, we felt, must be partly the result of a mirror brightly lit: the responsive face of one's partner. Such brightness could be found, we thought, dancing at the GAA Firehouse or, in commercial sex dives, at the Continental Baths, especially during the height of its influence. There, we noted, comfort, lights, song and socialization promised at least a lick of real community. There were comfy chairs around the swimming pool, a health food restaurant, a dancefloor, and clean rooms. Individuals could talk. If community sex was their desire, it took place on beds under dim lights, but not in dark, slimy corners. In SCREW (1970) we described the Continental's heyday, just before Bette Midler, Barry Manilow and Cab Calloway had gigs there :

Clean new chains are opening around the nation and a proud new generation is learning to use the human body without shame.....Attendants are polite and thoughtful. The floors are spotless; rooms carefully cleaned. Young and old walk through the halls with heads held high and shoulders back...furtive glances have been replaced with open smiles and an obvious warmth. Evil plastic queens who once were nasty to their elders, are on the wane.

On the other hand, we slammed the backroom bars:

They are too crowded, too pushy. We'll feel better about them when their back rooms become front rooms, when luxurious couches replace ankle-deep-in-cum-standing-room-only discomfort, and when furtive delights are replaced by prolonged passions. In truly civilized society, fucker and fuckees will ask friends home after the orgy. Open mouths will be more than mere receptacles. Tongues will tickle and talk.

******************************

In 1973 I got a major book contract. With Lige I'd already completed a second volume, Roommates Can't Always Be Lovers: An Intimate Guide to Male/ Male Relationships. It too was the first of a genre, a gay advice book written in response to actual letters we'd received through the years. Dr. George Weinberg penned its introduction.

The year 1973 saw a waning of the gay lib spirit in Manhattan. The Gay Activists Alliance was then chaired by Dr. Bruce Voeller, who soon thereafter further advanced his career as a founding member of the National Gay Task Force. Though we'd had no scrapes with him, his approach to matters differed from ours. We became tired of attempting to elicit articles for GAY that reflected our own particular vision. "Editing is like leading an orchestra with your blue pencil," I quipped, " Recently we've tried to get others to play tunes the way we like to hear them, while still offering them the freedom of their say. Now, we're beginning to think of ourselves as solo artists and we'd like busy ourselves giving our own views in books, so that we can say what we want more succinctly." Our resignation as GAY's editors--in the summer of '73-- was celebrated with glee as the front page lead headline of The Advocate. "The Nation's Second Largest Gay Newspaper," it exulted, sings its "swansong." Even so, we reminded our merry band of writers, GAY has been a "sweet song."

For a time Lige traveled around the world, working aboard a Norwegian ocean liner, visiting nearly every country. He begged me to go with him, but we maintained our Manhattan apartment and I spent the winter in Florida where, in 1974, I wrote Men's Liberation: A New Definition of Masculinity. I examined inculcated male role mindsets such as intellectual one-upmanship; celebrated the importance of feeling ("I Feel Therefore I Am"); reflected on intuition, and recommended an androgynous mindstate. With focus on roles and instincts, I insisted that male behavior need not remain static. True playfulness, which requires the spontaneous is a missing ingredient in the makeup of present-day men, I said. I critiqued competition, recommending in its place counter values: cooperation and self-improvement without the competitive making of comparisons to others. Too much self-identification through one's job title, the misplaced value of dominance as reflected in Richard Nixon's political behaviors reflected anti-social negatives, I insisted. In a chapter on "Size and Status" I came down hard on "The Bigger Than Thou Penis Syndrome." Women, I showed, were either men's equals-- the sort who could open doors for themselves, or they were old-fashioned manipulative "ladies." Sexuality, I regarded as a revolutionary force, a yoga for spirited interpersonal development. My chapter on coupling reflected on the decline of organized marriage. Fatherhood, I said, needed to move from its egocentric focus on vicarious immorality to one that spelled much needed voluntary friendship with an offspring. As for friendship itself, the gay taboo, I demonstrated, stood in its way. This taboo is very dangerous, I said, in a nuclear world where it is better to make love than war. I quoted Whitman's prediction: "Over the carnage rose prophetic a voice, Be not disheartened, affection shall solve the problems of freedom yet." Surely, I argued, "he did not mean that genital contact between males would solve freedom's problems, but affection...." Finally, there's one thing that truly shows, I maintained, and that is the temple of the self, the body. This chapter ended with another Whitman quote: "Whoever you are, how superb and how divine is your body or any part of it." In concluding remarks I called once again upon America to embrace its muse, to incorporate Whitman's Leaves of Grass into its daily life.

I dedicated Men's Liberation to Lige who'd taught me that "a man can learn to bend like the willow." When he returned from his voyage, he too got a book contract. I returned with him the following winter to a Florida beach. We were entering our eleventh year together. Lige proofed the final galleys of my book and saw, with satisfaction, its dedication. Three days later he went on a short jaunt, driving along the East Coast of Mexico where, late at night he was gunned down at a mysterious roadblock in a hail of automatic fire.

The massive shock I experienced lasted--a strangely energizing force--for nearly three years. There was an outpouring of genuine sympathy from cohorts in and out of the movement. This helped. I knew Lige would be best memorialized--on his terms-- if I moved forward in a positive vein. "Don't look over your shoulder," he'd always said, "Walk on!" He'd remain best alive in the values we'd shared. I'd work hard, if necessary, to incorporate in myself what I'd loved in him. Such qualities, I reasoned, had been and would continue to be, the heart of his reality. I'd said much about them in Men's Liberation, and my publisher arranged a national tour for the book, flying me from coast to coast. As I traveled, I felt his buoyant spirit growing within me.

The second half of "the gay decade" I devoted to the cause of men's liberation while giving loving attention to Logan Carter an amazing entertainer who, in the eyes of many, resembled Lige. I tried to keep this odd fact a secret from Logan, knowing it was important that he felt loved for himself. And I did love him for himself. It seemed an occult circumstance that we'd met and had found each other irresistible. Part of the reason, I suppose, was because Logan was, like Lige, an androgyne. Unlike Lige he was famous as such in the gay communities of the south. When he did drag, he knew that I saw through his costumes, that I was not judgmental about his career which required his use of female attire. When he removed the attire, this soul mate of mine was, as everyone agreed, the handsomest young man imaginable. Walt Whitman, I told him, best described how I felt whenever he performed:

Here lands female and male
Here the heir-ship and the heiress-ship of
the world, here the flame of materials.
Here spirituality the translatress, the openly avowed,
The ever tending, the finale of visible forms,
The satisfier, after due long waiting now advancing,
Yes, here comes my mistress, the soul.

His fame was a peculiar phenomenon. I'd grown accustomed to mini-fame with Lige as we'd walked the streets of Manhattan. Now, as I stood by Logan in southern gay environs, crowds made way for us, staring reverently and intently as we passed. But their eyes were not on me. I was merely Logan's consort. His trademark act was genderbending, for which he garnered hysterical applause as he strode across each stage. Strip teasing to Charles Aznavour's haunting theme-- What Makes A Man a Man?-- he turned from an exquisitely beautiful woman into an equally exquisite male. Deryck Calderwood, whose studio was at New York University, filmed this act, calling it Gender, to be used in university classroom debates on the topic. Once again, I knew, fate had placed at my side an amazing man, this time to help undermine the established gender system.

For six months, during 1976, Logan performed as Marilyn Monroe at the Fountainbleau's Superstar Theater in Miami Beach. I was fully aware of the ironic twist my life had taken. As the author of a major new work on masculinity, I could see how odd it must have appeared to friends that I was suddenly living in the passionate embrace of a youthful masculine hunk who, for a time, supported me by giving an expert impersonation of Hollywood's Sex Goddess Supreme. In the following years he and I moved regularly about the country, mostly in response to theatrical gigs. Later Logan appeared in various Hollywood films, dying, finally, in Hollywood Community Hospital (AIDS) in 1988.

In 1977 and 1978 we'd lived in Manhattan. Photographers there were forever approaching Logan on the street, asking that he pose. He danced across a myriad stages, modeled as male and female in Harper's Bazaar (Italy) and Mode International (Paris.) His photographed face sold for $600 at a Rinaldi's exhibit. The magazine, Honcho, ran pictures of him as a macho man.

I was hired as Editor of the world's oldest sex therapy magazine, Sexology where I explained to its publishers they approached sex not as attitude but as technique. "Six Ways To Prolong Orgasms," was like a House Beautiful coverline: "Six Ways to Decorate Your Boudoir." The publishers allowed a few new attitudes to grace Sexology's pages, but to satisfy me, many more were needed.

I moved with Logan to Tampa, Atlanta, and later to San Francisco. During this period I flew to Manhattan to address the American Sociological Association's annual meeting. My speech there suggested basics I'd use for making a major statement. A 1977 essay I'd written incorporated parts of that speech, becoming a vital work. It was called Butcher Than Thou: Beyond Machismo. There was needed, I saw, an undeniable link between gay lib and men's lib. Beginning with one anecdote about Logan and ending with another, this essay first appeared in New York's Gaysweek, and then in two textbook anthologies: Gay Men: The Sociology of Male Homosexuality and The New Gay Liberation Book. In part, reflecting on the state of the gay movement, it said:

What is this revolution after all but an equal rediscovery of love in this era? The revolution often feels itself at various impasses. These are only temporary. Underneath social cynicism are its incredible successes, triumphant gains made in ways we do not suspect. Aspects of the revolution lie dormant for a time, or assume new forms. The gay, women's and men's movements have existed before, having had earlier incarnations in the bodies of pioneers. Each movement is part of a developing process....

During the past decade men--from positions of assumed control--have (without unfortunately, being aware of their own conditioning) given us much of what we have called the sexual revolution. The result has been frustrating. What men deserve---truly satisfying sexual/loving relationships/experiences--has been fogged in intellectualizations about sexuality. Men become alienated from their own experience by destructive emphasis on techniques and they are numbed by "scientific babble"--an overemphasis on rationality. (An ad for FACT cigarettes: "I'm realistic. I only smoke FACTS.")

Second rate media hypes and profit-making bring about a growing disinterest from those who are wearied of talk about sex lib that seems to lead nowhere except to skinflicks and an increase in "adult" book stores. What, for many, seems to have gone out of the sexual revolution? What is it now lacking that it once possessed? Where is the hope that the love children of the late Sixties had for a world of sexual/loving sanity, a world in which men and women discovered the deliciousness of their sexuality and could share its healing powers?

I explained how Logan had demonstrated to me that:

We who are gay identified have a unique opportunity to see through the facades that pass for masculinity in our culture. Instinctively many of us know when somebody is being too butch, when posture is too rigid, or when tough expressions are too emphatic. We know when the cold, stern, unfeeling faces of conventional masculinists are merely masks for frightened boys.

In 1981 I was a featured speaker, flown to the annual Texas Gay Conference in Houston. I used this occasion to sum up the tradition--that of Whitman and of Edward Carpenter--that had formed the basis of my life's thought, recommending once again that their works be placed at the center of gay studies.

With the onset of the AIDS struggle came an extreme sense of urgency. My gay press columns in The Weekly News (TWN, Miami) spoke to the transformation of goal-oriented sexual habits. In mainstream newspapers I addressed heterosexual audiences and, ending a 15-year absence, returned to SCREW's outrageous pages where--uncensored-- I vented a plethora of political frustrations, bringing sexually active readers--gay or straight--an awareness of the horrors of the crisis-disease. Rediscovering my youthful scorn for the purveyors of fundamentalist bamboozlement--those seedy "religious" folk whose frightening seizure of political levers suddenly stood in the way of reasoned AIDS solutions--I blasted prominent Baptist boneheads who--in Falwellian fashion-- were whispering in political ears. Dumping on hypocritical Roman clergy, and sleazy TV evangelicals, my ire, unhinged, became--in 1996-- unrelenting, erupting into a scathing book, The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists.

Fundamentalist right-wingers viciously charged gay men and the free-lovers of the counterculture as responsible for the spread of AIDS, ignoring the fact that it was "the pill" which suddenly allowed young women to enjoy varied sexual pleasures once relegated to men only, and that the arrival of the automobile--"a bedroom-date on wheels"--and an increasingly complex society-- found working women spilling out of chaperoned parlors into a world no longer dominated exclusively by men. On the heels of these developments, as well as an understandable overreaction to the sexual repression of the past, the erotic revolution--celebrating the wholesome side of human sexuality-- mushroomed.

From my 90's vantage point, I often wax critical of much that passes in current media for gay or male liberation, while the AIDS crisis, in part, should be met, I think, with a resurrection of the 60's counterculture non-penetrative word for sex: balling.

As usual I keep Walt Whitman's themes alive. "Affection shall solve the problems of freedom yet." Emphasizing this in the midst of cynicism and despair, keeps alive counterculture hopes. A letter I wrote to historian David K. Johnson (1992) lists twenty viewpoints I've celebrated as strategy. These are:

1. Heaven and hell are mindstates only, achievable on this plane.
2. A self-focus that bypasses the well-being of others will fail to promote personal well-being.
3. All humanity is one family, all races: one race; all nations: one country.
4. Men and women are equals.
5. Honesty is the greatest wealth one can possess.
6. Titles evoking status-concerns are laughable.
7. Skepticism need not cause cynicism.
8. Independent investigations of truths supersedes the acceptance of any authority.
9. Rationalism, while potent and eminently worthy, must be tempered by the presence of a compassionate heart.
10. A compassionate heart must be tempered by rational vision.
11. Pleasure is not an end but a byproduct of attitude.
12. The marriage of East and West is a necessity.
13. One becomes what one deliberately repeats to oneself and what one absorbs. Hopefully this can be done consciously. Unfortunately, most people absorb the reigning culture without being aware of their absorption.
14. All religious impetus arises from similar human hopes and fears, no matter the geographical locale.
15. The study of foreign cultures and languages are essential to education, with travel the best mode. Intermingling--whether of the races of sexual orientations-- is to be encouraged.
16. Governments are ephemeral.
17. Public schooling is generally harmful to those who would learn.
18. Cultural fads limit personal consciousness.
19. Religious fanaticism--or fanaticism of any kind--is recognizably damaging, both to society and to the individual fanatic.
20. Contact with nature, including a heightened awareness of one's own body, is a major path to ecstasy.

As editor today of Badpuppy's newly fashioned GayToday, I'm obviously experiencing my own kind of reincarnation or spirited continuity. Why? Well, its been nearly 30 years since I co-edited GAY, America's first gay weekly. Now, though I didn't choose the title of this publication, I've ascended into cyberspace editing--what else?-- GayToday. Is there a certain internal logic behind this nigh-mystical development?

Today, again, I take friends by the hand to meet Walt Whitman who awaits the awakening of their curiosity about him. Though over a hundred years have passed since his death, he calls to us from nether regions-- "from the vapor and the dusk." I can hear him now, speaking in the midst of the AIDS crisis, he who once traversed bloody battlefields as a male nurse, and now piques 90's cynics with these relevant words as he too expires:

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

1998 BEI; All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission e-mail gaytoday@badpuppy.com