The gay world didn’t know what hit it in the period immediately allowing Stonewall in the summer of 1969, and generally doesn’t even to this day.
But being lesbian or gay in one of the major U.S. cities went from the dominant paradigm of a socially-marginalized private life on weekends with a creative public career to one where the pursuit of random sex became a 24-7 obsession, with career pursuits often kicked overboard in the process. The modern gay culture still bears a strong imprint of that transformation.
Carrying forward my characterizations of the forces behind that transformation comes now the scenario for how it was carried out, and what the ulterior motives behind it were. As one who was a pioneer of the modern post-Stonewall gay movement, but as one who tried unsuccessfully to buck the prevailing trend, I saw this up close and personal. For me, personally, I observed the process unfolding from the point I entered graduate theological seminary in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1966.
Through a concerted social engineering process, powerful forces deployed, including covert ones, to transform U.S. society from one which was energized by Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream Speech” on the national mall in 1963, to one driven by Gordon Gekko’s memorable speech on the virtues of greed in the 1980 film, “Wall Street.”
The transformation of society from the social consciousness of the early to mid-1960s, fighting for civil rights, the War on Poverty and against an emerging war in Vietnam, to the self-centered, personal greed obsessed 1980s did not happen by accident, and what was done to the post-Stonewall gay movement was pivotal to the process.
There are two relevant, publicly-documented factors when, if overlaid upon one another, tell the story in a startling and straightforward manner.
The first is what, in a 1980 book by that name, involved what was called the “The Aquarian Conspiracy.” The book was written by Marilyn Ferguson as a comprehensive catalog of how a new social movement, which began to take off in the 1960s under the rubric of the “human potential movement,” had successfully insinuated itself into the fabric of American public life. This self-described “Aquarian Conspiracy” elevated the philosophies and social mores of the individual over social consciousness, and was regaled against, for example, more traditional struggles of trade unions and anti-poverty and war and pro-civil rights liberal Democrats with what it called a so-called new “radical middle” in politics. It drew on the teachings of Aldous Huxley, the Beat generation poets and other “post-moderns” like Michel Foucault and Ayn Rand, as I mentioned in my last column, in specially-formed places like the Esalen Institute south of San Francisco as well as on campuses across the U.S. The second factor is another matter of public record and of an even more insidious nature, outlined in thousands of pages of declassified internal Central Intelligence Agency documents which came to light in the late 1970s at the result of Congressional hearings by Sen. Frank Church’s committee, revealing a massive CIA covert operation known by the code name, MK ULTRA.
That involved the CIA’s massive assault on the domestic U.S. population, operating on no less than 40 U.S. college and university campuses, using unsuspecting U.S. citizens for mass experimentation in the proliferation of LSD and other mind-altering drugs. These drugs were tested and proliferated as sort of mass “chemical lobotomies” (lobotomies, or surgical incisions into the frontal lobe, being widely practiced well into the 1950s as a form of taming unruly persons). The goal was to turn social consciousness into personal inward-directedness, and it was found to work. These two publicly-documented forces of the “human potential movement” and the covert MK ULTRA operation melded into the same force during the infamous 1967 Summer of Love in San Francisco, when “sex, drugs and rock-and-roll” became new mantra of American youth. It was followed by the urban riots of 1968 in wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King and pushed forward to wound and eventually leave the idealism of the civil rights, War on Poverty and early anti-Vietnam War struggles in the dust.
What role did the imposition of all this on the gay movement play? Specifically, being unable to foist this massive social “paradigm shift” on the mainstream U.S. population directly, the masters behind these efforts chose to insinuate them through socially marginalized groups, mainly African-Americans, gays and displaced youth.
By targeting these already socially-alienated groups as portals, so to speak, these forces leveraged their influence to have a greater bearing on overall society.
All three of these marginalized segments tended to be progressive-minded and in favor of social movements to aid the downtrodden. In the case of gays in the major U.S. cities, strides to gain wider social acceptance were already well underway and gay culture tended to bond with the plights of African-Americans, displaced youth and the poor.
But what came out of the Summer of Love and hit the gay movement like a giant tsunami shifted the dominant emotional content of these sub-cultures from themes of justice, peace and love to anger and the wonton, angry pursuit of boundless pleasure, a radical hedonism, for its own sake.