Assessing the emergence over the last 40 years of contemporary gay culture, including the recent rise of a more robust right-wing, anarcho-libertarian current, it is instructive to examine how two powerful cross-currents energized the earliest days of the post-Stonewall movement. Their differentiation is by and large cloaked, but still exists to this day.
As a seminary-graduated co-founder of the Berkeley, Calif., Gay Liberation Front in 1970, I was deeply involved in promoting one of those currents, as reflected in the title of my chapter in the collection, “Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation,” published by City Lights Books on the 40th anniversary of Stonewall in the summer of 2009. My chapter was entitled, “Berkeley and the Fight for an Effeminist, Socially-Transformative Gay Identity.”
For myself and my allies, what the post-Stonewall explosion of the gay movement stood for was an empowerment of what we felt was a core identity of LGBT people, who have a special role in creation, their powerful capacity to transform the larger society in the direction of greater economic and social justice, compassion and peace. With a long string of role models in Western Civilization as guides, from Socrates to Leonardo DaVinci to Tennessee Williams and many others, we felt it the emergence of the Gay Liberation movement offered an historic opportunity to ally with the anti-war, civil rights and feminist movements to wrest the dominant social paradigm away from the militaristic white male “chauvinists” on all levels of society, from individual households to the most powerful governments of the world.
Because of the special importance in this cause of identifying with the liberation of women, and our natural affinity with their plight and struggles, we branded ourselves “Effeminists,” and I and my close friend produced two editions of a newspaper that we sold on the streets of Berkeley and San Francisco in 1972 and 1973 called The Effeminist. In the editorial I wrote in the first-ever edition of the Gay Sunshine newspaper in 1970, I proclaimed the purpose of that Gay Sunshine was to represent “those who understand themselves as oppressed – politically oppressed by an oppressor that not only is down on homosexuality, but equally down on all things that are not white, straight, middle class, pro-establishment…It should harken to a greater cause – the cause of human liberation of which homosexual liberation is just one aspect – and on that level make its stand.” This reflected an alignment with the current that extended from the idealism of the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, their urgency underscored by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy in the spring of 1968.
However, there was the other current to contend with, which I wrote about in Part 2. That was the psychedelic, radical hedonism of, as author Marilyn Fergeson called it, the “Aquarian conspiracy,” an overwhelming force of radical hedonism, of the proliferation of “drugs, sex and rock and roll,” which was launched in an entirely different direction, with an entirely different objective.
This social engineering force, driven by covert intelligence interests, including the CIA’s MK ULTRA domestic drug proliferation project, was aimed as derailing, de-fanging and defusing the great 1960s social force for civil rights and peace in Vietnam. U.S. intelligence forces feared these movements would threaten the U.S. in the context of the Cold War, and unleashed a great wave of self-centered hedonism to counter it. The post-Stonewall gay movement was targeted and overwhelmed by this.
The pitch was not for love and romance, but for impersonal, promiscuous sex as pleasure and angry power. Resisting the relentless calls for “more, more, more” was called counter-revolutionary, and soon in the major cities sex clubs and baths exploded, as did sex in public places like the trucks at the Greenwich Village piers, and epidemics of every variety of STDs along with them. The only politics anyone wanted were those that would help protect their ability to keep on doing this.
Post-modernist Pied Pipers like the gay Michel Foucault was in the avant garde of urging this on. He died of AIDS in 1984 after making it his practice to visit S&M gay bathhouses in San Francisco virtually every day in the fall of 1983, even as clear evidence exists that he knew he was infected.
Any notion of a unique gay sensibility was trampled under, with “gay” being a sexual orientation, nothing more. To many, the very identity of the gay movement underwent just the transformation those pushing all this wanted. Up against this, we “effeminists” and our allies were like hapless students at the barricades in “Les Miserables.” We were completely outgunned and routed. Some went underground, others tried rear-guard efforts at maintaining a link between the gay movement and other progressive causes. For me, being smack in the middle of one of the fiercest of the hedonistic tempests in San Francisco, I had no choice but to bail out decisively. I went into virtual exile, publishing my resignation from the gay movement in a local gay newspaper, saying I would fight for my ideals in a wider pro-socialist context. (To be continued.)