It Was 25 Years Ago Today
This paper has a long history of commitment to the LGBT community. We published openly gay and lesbian writers at the height of the homophobic '50s. A decade later, Voice columnist Jill Johnston wrote groundbreaking essays on lesbian liberation, and in 1969 we ran extensive coverage of the Stonewall rebellion (our office at the time was located above the bar). A few years later, we established the first gay-news beat at a major paper, and hired a gay reporter, Arthur Bell, to work it. Then, in June of 1979, the Voice published the first gay and lesbian section to appear in a mainstream publication.
It was not exactly a gay-friendly time. Back then some readers carried our special issue with the front page folded over, so the G-word wouldn't show. It didn't stop us from doing another Gay Life section in 1980, and every year since.
Over the decades, many major writers have appeared in the Queer Issue, as it's now called. The list includes novelists Armistead Maupin, Eileen Myles, and Edmund White; actors Ian McKellen and Harvey Fierstein; performance artists Karen Finley and Holly Hughes; comic Marga Gomez; historian George Chauncey Jr.; sociologist Richard Sennett; theorist Monique Wittig; and many more. In 1984, James Baldwin chose this section to give a rare interview on his ideas about homosexuality. Among our other subjects were Christopher Isherwood, whose writing inspired Cabaret, and the civil rights leader Bayard Rustin.
We hope you enjoy this selection from our archive of queer voices, and we wish you, as we always do, happy Pride!
Present at the Creation
By Andrew Kopkind
From the moment gays begin to test their identities against straight "norms" they learn to pretend: to hide behind straight masks, to perform straight parts in straight plays, to divide gay selves from the straight roles. Only the eyes betray the truth: gay men check out everyone within eyeshot for the sly glance, the subtle mannerism, the hidden smile, the measured gait, the clothes, the postureall to find fellow members of the tribe and announce their own "ethnicity" in ways so covert that outsiders (those whom other tribes may call strangers, barbarians, ofays, or goyim) seldom catch the exchanges. It happens all the time: on the subway, in an office, on a movie line, in all-night banking centers, airport lounges. The universal gay check-out may be a kind of "cruising," but its basis is survival and support more often than sex. Until recently, a gay grew up believing he was the only queer in the world; the search for others is essentially a means of reassuring himself that he will never again be alone. (1979)
Gowing Up Lesbiana
By Marga Gomez
The first lesbians I ever saw were on one of my mother's favorite television programs, David Susskind's Open End. She had turned the volume down low, but I could hear Mr. Susskind say, "Tonight's program might be offensive to people with certain religious beliefs, and not suitable for children. I will be interviewing Lady Homosexuals."
I could hear this upstairs in my room with my door shut and my radio blasting because, by the age of 10, I had already developed homosexual hearing. I followed David Susskind's voice downstairs and sat next to my mother on the sofa. I made sure to look and sound completely repulsed so she wouldn't catch on that I was mesmerized by the Lady Homosexuals and riveted to every word that floated from their perverted lips. There were three of them, all gloomy. And they wore disguises: raincoats, dark glasses, and wigs. Although what they said was not encouraging, the wigs made me want to be one. (1996)
Go the Way Your Blood Beats
An interview with James Baldwin
By Richard Goldstein
Do you feel like a stranger in gay America?
Well, first of all I feel like a stranger in America from almost every conceivable angle except, oddly enough as a black person. The word gay has always rubbed me the wrong way. I never understood exactly what is meant by it. I dont want to sound distant or patronizing because I dont really feel that. I simply feel its a world that has very little to do with me, with where I did my growing up. I was never at home in it. Even in my early years in the Village, what I saw of that world absolutely frightened me, bewildered me. I didnt understand the necessity of all the role playing. And in a way I still dont.
You never thought of yourself as being gay?
No, I didnt have a word for it. The only one I had was homosexual and that didnt quite cover whatever it was I was beginning to feel. Even when I began to realize things about myself, began to suspect who I was and what I was likely to become, it was still very personal, absolutely personal. I was really a matter between me and God. I would have to live the life he had made me to live. I told him quite a long, long time ago there would be two of us at the Mercy Seat. He would not be asking all the questions. (1984)
The Color Line
By Hilton Als
And what do we see now, here in the land of no vision? Open your eyes. Stand on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Christopher Street. The ghosts of the dead remain undead in your head. The ghosts of the living pass before you. Some of them look like you, others not. Here, identity is predicated on race. If you are black or Something Other Than, this is where your seventh circle begins: at Two Potato, Sneakerswhatever. If you are white you proceed east, to places like Uncle Charlie's or Tunnel Bar, or further west and uptown, to J's, or Meatwhatever. The point is, Christopher Street has become a microcosm for the old New York story: once we move in you move out. (1991)
Fear and Loving in the Gay Community
By Richard Goldstein
"The poor homosexuals," [Pat] Buchanan writes. "They have declared war upon nature and now nature is extracting an awful retribution." In the guise of warning that gay men pose a danger to the public-even dentists may be contaminated by their spittle-this journalist lays the clinical groundwork for a shunning process that more candid moralists have long regarded as the appropriate way to deal with sin....
In the dream, I am lying on a bed draped entirely in white. Through the gauzy light, I can make out my lover, in a white gown and rubber gloves, his face apparent only in the hair and eyes. Then I see my mother sitting in a straight-backed chair, swaying as she did when she kept watch on my brother who was sick. Then I see a rabbi, his black coat and beard against the whiteness of the chamber. He looks at my body, tethered in tubes; he reaches over as if to touch me; he shuts the resuscitator off. (1983)
Death In The Family
By C. Carr
One of the myths about us is that dykes and faggots can't love each other. We have about as many man-haters and woman-haters as straight people do-which is a few. But very often gay men and women think of each other as family. AIDS is a crisis of family. As much as gay men may need our help, we need for them not to leave us. That's why so many lesbians are redirecting their fabled "energy" from feminist projects to AIDS. It's our crisis too.
A gay woman was telling me just the other day about her friend, this man who won't stop fucking around, and how angry she gets, and she keeps telling him, "Stop fucking around! You know who's going to take care of you when you're sick. I'm the one who loves you!" Lesbians are in the peculiar position of being like wives left home from the war. We can tend the wounded and follow the battle reports and try to raise money, but we're really just biding our time till we find out who'll come home from the front. (1987)
I Was the Queer at a Christian Theme Park
By Darrell Yates Rist
Ever since I've gotten back from Jim and Tammy Bakker's wonderland, I've had nightmares. Faces with pained smiles and happy tears and "Jesus!" on their lips are taking things away from me. Sex, love, friends, my lover, curiosity and independent thoughts, my intellect-all suffocated in a vertigo of faith, as they were when I was still a Pentecostal cultist. Back thenin the '40s, '50s, '60speople who were overwhelmed by God, heard His voice, concocted sudden languages to answer Him, fell shaking on the floor, or ran across the backs of church pews "blessed" were thought to be a folksy, dying breed, poor or lower middle-class and badly educated. Lunatics. (1986)
Counting Deborah, I've been in love six times. The first time I felt a tremendous innocence, I even felt cleansed. I was more sexually aroused than I'd ever been, and I spent several weeks wandering through an erotic haze...
The second time I fell in love I was braced for it. Like the flu, I knew I'd catch it again.
...As the years passed, I met a couple of other women I couldn't live without. With one of them I lived happily for a long time. I'll never leave you, I kept telling her. Now I know when I say forever, I mean about five years. My breakup with R was extremely painful, but I was not suicidal. After all, I wrote to a former professor, how many names can you cry in the night?" (1979)
Oh My Papi
By Vince Aletti
Currently, the porn ideal is the same cartoon (actually, a Tom of Finland drawing) of masculinity found at most gay gyms, dance clubs, and go-go bars: He's broad-shouldered and bubble-butted, with a chest like shiny armor plate and no sign of body hair; he's clean-shaven, thick-lipped, straight-acting, and white. He's the '90s clone, and we're over him . . .
The relationship of gay white men and Latinos, whether mutual attraction or mutual exploitation, has its lore, its literature, and plenty of anecdotal evidence. (You could start with the personals in any gay rag, the ones that read "GWM seeks PR homeboy, 18-28, beefy hung, uncut. Bi a plus.") And for the past nine years it's had its own porn auteur, the pseudonymous Brian Brennan, whose Barrio-based outfit, Latino Fan Club, has turned out 60 exhilaratingly cheesy, way hardcore extravaganzas. The LFC motto: "Celebrating the beauty of the Latin male." Right-all nine and a half inches of it. (1994)
Falling For A Guy:
A Lesbian Adventure
By Maria Maggenti
I have been seeing this man for six months already. That's five months and one week less time than I usually wait to tell my mom about one of my new girlfriends. Time to call her. She's cooking dinner; I can hear it on the stove. "I just want to let you know that I'm seeing someone new." My mother stirs something in the pan. "That's nice, dear. What's her name?" I tell her. "That's nice," she replies.
"It's a man, mom. I'm seeing a man. And before you say anything, I just want you to know this doesn't mean I'm not a dyke anymore, I mean I'm still a lesbian so don't start thinking the past 12 years have been a phase because they haven't. If anything, this relationship is a phase, it's like a small break in my long life as a lesbian." My mother is nonplussed. "Maria, all relationships are phases in life," she assures me. Well at least she's not jumping for joy. At least she's not flying into some wild dance about the primacy of heterosexual attraction. At least she knows who I ameven if I don't. (1995)
Baby Outs Me
by Laura Conaway
As a gay parent in training, I'd been taught that we must defend our right to have children, enroll them in the kindergarten down the block, and take them to the zoo on a family pass. But the day those nurses handed me a squalling Nate, I realized we must also defend our children's lives, sometimes on the level of flesh and blood, more often in terms of their full ticket as human beings. We must give them a deep, unshakable sense of legitimacy that this world can never grant them and therefore can never take away. Sure, lesbians face the risk of being booted from restaurants or stared at on the subway, but for Nate the greater harm would come from my pretending, for even one of his heartbeats, that his mother is not my beloved and I am not his parent....
For me, defending him begins with putting solid ground beneath his feet on which he can learn to stand. That means giving up the notion of ever passing again. I must be his ima-the Hebrew word for mother that we're having him call me-with store clerks and civic matrons, in his presence or far from home. For each time I let a stranger's reference to my "husband" slide, I let go, however briefly, of my grip on this vulnerable son. This baby has pulled me from the closet where I had sometimes retreated-not by convincing me I'll live better outside, but by showing me he cannot thrive within it. (2002)
by Patrick Califia-Rice
Since the baby arrived, there are precious few moments when Matt and I can meet each other alone. The occasions when lust can break through the fence are even more rare. We are oddly shy during these adultonly interludes, as if becoming parents has made us strange to one another. The house is sticky. Piles of clean laundry that we can't find time to put away topple over and get mixed up with the dirty clothes. Yet we continue to be loving and kind with each other and with Blake. . .
I started taking testosterone a couple of months before Blake was born. While he learns how to grab things, click his tongue, hold his own bottle, and walk while somebody holds his hands, I am going through my own metamorphosis. My hips are smaller, my muscle mass is growing, and every day it seems like there's more hair on my face and body. My voice is deeper, and my sex drive has given me newfound empathy with the guys who solicit hookers for blowjobs. When I think that I can continue with this process-get chest surgery and pass as male-I feel happier than at any other point in my life. (2000)
Faith, Hope and Sodomy
By Richard Goldstein
At the hearing on gays in the military, I watched several senators squirm at the prospect of forcing homosexuals to hide, suggesting that, on some deep-structural level, we're aware that gayness is not just a conduct but an identity centered on belief. Gay people sense this as well. No other group in American society is so devoted to symbol formation. Freedom rings give way to rainbow stripes (in solidarity with gay troops.) The sign-language symbol for lovethree fingers raised in a kind of bunny salutebecomes a gay greeting. And every season brings a new accessory: the pinks triangle begets the black triangle (worn by lesbians in Nazi concentration camps), and both are turned upward (to connote hope) or combined to form a Star of David (for gay Jews), or outfitted with a large blue eye (the Masonic symbol updated with the word ENVISION). The power of these signs stems largely from their original meaning as tokens of stigma. By appropriating them, gay people signify their awareness of oppression and their triumph over trauma. Not entirely different from wearing the cross. (1993)
We Invented Irony
Robert Chesley, Holly Hughes, and Lanford Wilson
Interviewed by Robert Massa
What types of gay plays are likely to be produced and which are not?
Hughes: Plays that apologize or explain to straight society are more commercial.
Wilson: That's true in movies or TV, but theatre gives gay writers a chance to be straightforward. The theatre is really the only public forum a gay writer has.
What topics are not accepted, even by gay audiences?
Chesley: There's a large range of sexual practices, impulses and ways of being that are highly stigmatized in this society and still radical in gay theatre.
Wilson: If it gets the least bit kinky or promiscuous, you're in trouble.
Hughes: Among lesbians, there's a big pressure to be politically correct, to affirm our positive self-images. To me that's not art. It's like the pledge of allegiance. It's like Thanksgiving. (1988)
England, Bloody England
Interviewed by Vito Russo
Why hadn't you come out sooner?
I thought that to declare myself gay might be a limitation on the audience's response to me. It was always that, rather than the fear that if I were open, I wouldn't get work. I mean, an actor's job deals with sex to a great extent. The first thing an audience looks at when the actor enters is his face, then his crotch. The last thing you check before going on is that your flies are done up, or undone, depending on what you're playing. It's very unlikely that I would be offered a straight romantic part in a movie now.
What parts have you been offered since coming out?
One offer was to play Noel Coward, which I wouldn't do. The other was John Profumo, the cabinet minister who allegedly was sleeping with a prostitute who was also sleeping with a member of the KGB. I took the part thinking it would be a wonderful message for my next role to be that of a notorious heterosexual. (1988)
Poet Essex Hemphill
Interviewed by Scott Poulson-Bryant
Do you think there's a black gay sensibility?
I've had that argument involved in continuing the tradition of black literature. They've challenged me to show them a gay sensibility. Now I don't know if I'm the one to define that, but there is a sensibility that heightens the flamboyance and drama of language, dance and music. There is the quality of understanding the night in another way, not as we black people have understood the night at different times in our history: as a place to make a journey to freedom, to strategize for freedom. Black gay men take the night and make out of it our romances, our heartbreaks, our strategies for survival. (1988)
Time on Two Crosses:
Interviewed by George Chauncey Jr. and Lisa Kennedy
Did your being gay interfere with your relationship with Dr. King?
Dr. King was always terrified of the press. His first question would be what is the press reaction going to be? He would normally have preferred never to discuss any of it. And he never did except when he was pressured in some way into doing so. And on two occasions, I went to him and said I can tell you're deeply agonized by this. So I think that I'm going to get out of the way now. If you need me later, call me back. And on two occasions, he called me back because he needed me.
Did he ever compare your problems to the rumors about his extramarital affairs?
I wouldn't think there was any possibility of his comparing them, because I don't think he saw them as having any relationship whatever. Oh, the crap that was going on in those motels as the movement moved from place to place was totally acceptable. The homosexual act was not. (1987)
'Yan Daudu' and Proud
By Martin Foreman
While Westerners insist that all desire be defined as homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual, African cultures allow for a variety of emotional bonds, as long as the traditions of family life are maintained. Thus, many African men see no contradiction between marriage to a woman and sex or love with menwhile many studies show that women in Africa, as elsewhere, are often dissatisfied with the roles they must play. "In the West you have a particular line you have to follow until you come out as a happy homosexual," says Graeme Hendricks of the Triangle Project in Cape Town, South Africa. "Are we saying that any community where same-sex behavior is happening is underdeveloped because it doesn't identify as homosexual?" (1999)
Remixing the Closet
By Jason King
If there's a DL community today, it's the result of this sort of brazen marketing. In the late 1980s, a group called A1BlackElite launched Bla-tino, a hugely popular series of sex parties thrown in secluded locations across the East Coast. Bla-tino's street-promo strategy targeted men who wouldn't otherwise fraternize at gay-identified clubs: "ruffnecks, barriboyboyz, thugs, popichulos, shortys, manchismos, brolic mutherfuckers, 'n your neighbor." The door policy rejected fats, femmes, and anyone sporting an "AIDS look." Implicit in this rhetoric was the fear of effeminacy, a terror that bubbles under the surface of epithets like faggot. This intense ambivalence about the visible signs of gayness is part and parcel of DL culture. Undercover guys strive to be unclockable: undetectable. (2003)
The First Couple:
Don Bachardy and Christopher Isherwood
Interviewed by Armistead Maupin
You told me once that you felt you had entered the gay rights fray too late, that you wished youd gotten involved earlier. In what way?
Well, I never really felt, myself, that I was leading the charge, or taking the role of some kind of leader. Never for one moment. On the other hand, I never denied that I was queer. During all those years in Hollywood I just took it for granted that they knew what I was doing. I suppose it was a kind of arrogance.
When were you first aware you were gay? What are your earliest memories of feeling homosexual?
Very early, I suppose those boys in Germany.
Chris, your long term friendship with Wystan Auden is a matter of record. Did you begin that as lovers?
What we call a fuck buddy these days.
A fuck buddy, yes, thats what we were. It would have been unthinkable under the circumstances if we hadnt at least tried. (1985)
The Way We Were
By George Chauncey Jr
By the end of the decade some observers remarked that New York's drag balls had surpassed those of Chicago and New Orleans in size and opulence, and that the city rivaled Berlin in its tolerance of such affairs. . . In the late '20s the police regularly turned out in force to guard and maintain order at these extravaganzas. They were not the only representatives of legitimate society there to observe; the Vanderbilts, the Astors, and other pillars of respectability took boxes to view the spectacle below. Carl Van Vechten, a chronicler of the Harlem Renaissance, whom one newspaper described as "quite familiar with many of the brunettes in question," occasionally served as a judge at the beauty contests which were the highlight of the balls; on one occasion he joined two other prominent literary figures in awarding first prize to a young man almost "stark naked, save for a decorative cache-sexe and silver sandals, and..painted a kind of apple green. (1986)
The Politics of Drag
By Edmund White
Marsha patted a dab of rouge on his brown cheeks, added a scent of faded cologne, focused on me, on the potato salad, on the air, and continued on his lazily singsong voice.
"I was in a lot of raids before. All the street queens were. The paddy wagon was a regular routine. We used to sit in our little 42nd Street hotel rooms'hot spring hotels' they used to call themand party and get high and think about walking down the street someday and not worry about getting busted by the police. That was a dream we all had, sitting in those hotel rooms or in the queens' tanks of the jails. So, honey, when it came that night, I was ready to tip a few cars for a dream. It was that year1969when I finally went out in the street in drag full-time." (1979)
Butching Up Is Not a Liberated Act
By Michael Musto
There are supposed to be eight million ways to be gay. But these days more and more of us are trying to seem "straight"the old "Hey, we're just like you" approach, which could nauseate anyone who came out to celebrate the idea of not being just like them. Mandatory macho has given the butches ammunition to purge the femmes from gay male consciousness. It's gotten so bad that we're dividing up our usual turf into styledistricts: Clones in the West Village, fashionites in the East Village, and guppies wherever a branch of Charivari can be found. These people have always eyed each other warily, but nowadays, they approach each other as if they don't even belong to the same species, let alone sexuality.
Now, some femmes are walking around with vises on their hips to keep them from swiveling, and developing such firm handshakes they sometimes draw blood. It's a lost causeswaggering like John Wayne, most femmes would still be called by his real name: Marion. But that hasn't stopped former Miss Things from doing their apartments in Stallone posters, and trading in the sweatshirt that says "I never laid a hand on those fucking kids. Sincerely, Joan Crawford" for a button-down shirt, pullover sweater, and nice, heartening smile. This is the uniform of a gay man who yearns to be taken seriously. I'd rather see Divine tell (or eat) the real poop. (1987)
By Karen Finley
There was a knock at my dressing-room door."Ms. Finley? Someone is here with a package that must be PERSONALLY delivered, HAND DELIVERED." "Why, let him in, by all means." My voice became Blanche Dubois-and she did fancy Stanley, that beast!
The intern was delivering my trousseau, the copies of gay porn. I instantly imagined the exchange as a metaphor for the gay male editor who had assigned the piece standing over me, holding his golden genitalia and saying, "I insist on hand delivery." And I respond with fire in my eyes, "Let him in, by all means," as I open myself and wrap my long legs over the beast shoulders and he mounts me and I become his animal. (2001)
After my first year, we moved from the chicken coop into a trailer. My father worked three jobs simultaneously, rarely sleeping. My mother took whatever work she could find: mending, washing, and ironing other people's clothes. But we never really recovered. We were impoverished. Growing up, I was always poor. I am also a lesbian.
This, then, is my queer identity: I am a high-femme, mixed-race, white-trash lesbian. And even after all these years of living in a middle-class gay community, I often feel left outside when people speak about their backgrounds, their families. And if you listen to the current telling of "our" queer tale, people like me would seem an anomaly. Because, we are told-and we tell ourselves-queerness can't be poor. (2001)
By Eileen Myles
For dykes, generations are less about age than attitude. Try standing with a clump of your lesbian contemporaries. The dividing lines of race and class, shoes and musical taste, will predictably send us flying to our corners quicker than you can say butch/femme.
I know I'm not alone in my ancient alienation and new affinity. There's a teeming society of women who identify the postpunk third wave of feminism as the beat we're listening to, because unlike the taboo-laden feminism of my youth, the new lesbian mise-en-scène is a fierce, wildly infectious, and inclusive cultural force. It's a dyke world where straight girls can come too, and maybe even men. Who needs separatism if you're the boss? (2000)
Breaking the Heterosexual Contract
By Monique Wittig
We know that dominance is a fact of society, of culture, and not of nature. Consider that we gay people have already breached the (heterosexual) social contract, or I could not even write these words. Our aim must be to broaden the breach so that the actual contract will be turned inside out like a glove, so that it will become dubious to heterosexuals as well. Since we have identified the worm in the fruit, the defect in the tie that binds us, the only action we can accomplish to transform the social contract is to bring about the disappearance of sex as a category of thought. (1984)
By Richard Sennett
I've been thinking in the last few months whether we as gay men and women, can really become part of the political process; whether we, like blacks or Jews, can be "accommodated". If we could be, our future would look something like this in New York. There would be a couple of openly gay members of the City Council. Our representatives would begin to counsel moderation: it takes time to build a coalition. There would be prominent gays on the boards of various corporations. The gay board members would be most successful in ensuring equal rights for gays who were the most successful in their corporate careers . . . The staffs of gay organizations would try to minimize the differences between gay clients and non-gay donors. Men who want to love boys, women who are adamant about pornographyto take two groups of radically opposed temperamentswould become embarrassing, unexplainable to the donors, and gradually these "extremists" would be excluded from the institutional framework of gay life. (1984)
By Alisa Solomon
Homosexuality riles the Jewish American imagination in some very secular ways. Most of all, it stirs anxiety around Jewishness as queerness, especially since American anti-Semitism is often expressed in stereotypes of Jews as gender dysfunctional: the effeminate, wimpy man; the woman who's not really a woman either because she's a commandeering Jewish mother or, a generation later, a frigid but highly adored JAP. Meanwhile, the stereotypical Jewish familymeek father, always away at work; domineering mother, always in the kitchenis exactly the stereotype of the sort of parents who produce gay sons. Perhaps, suggests Historian Paul Brienes, Portnoy's Complaint wasn't that he needed Zionism, as Bruno Bettelheim thought, but that he was a closet case. (1993)
My Father's Feet
By Dale Peck
What we haven't talked about during my trips home is the fact that I'm gay. At first we didn't talk about it because I hadn't told him and I think we both realized there was nothing worth talking about until I did; and after I came out to him three years ago we didn't talk at all because my step father has forbidden me from telling him anything about homosexuality, and I think we both realize that until I do we have nothing, really, to say to each other. It was during the last of these nighttime visits, this past Christmas, when I went home for the first time inn three and a half years, that I realized I hadn't seen my father's feet in nearly a decade, and I wondered then how this man who's known me since I was born, since my mother died, since he left his second wife, since his third wide left him, and since he married a fourth woman who wouldn't leave him, even if she wanted toI wondered then how my father and I had grown so far apart. (1993)
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