In “Dancer From the Dance,” Andrew Holleran wrote about the rampant, excessive hedonism that swept the gay world in New York in the 1970s, as Larry Kramer did in his novel, “Faggots” and his film documentary, “Gay Sex in the ’70s,” and Edmund White did in his “States of Desire, “My Lives” and other accounts. I witnessed the same phenomena in San Francisco.
In his “non-fiction novel,” Holleran described a club called The Twelfth Floor. It was on West 33rd Street, an all-gay, earlier version of Studio 54, where a plethora of drugs and casual hook-ups flowed among elite pretty boys and those who could afford or had sufficient status to be their admirers. No ordinary people allowed, just the beautiful ones – which quickly became elevated as quintessential “gay culture.”
There, amid a crunch of beautiful young gays squeezed into the club, a cynical and jaded older homosexual introduces a young novice to the scene, a “thin, pale young fellow in horn-rimmed glasses who looked as if he had just stumbled out of the stacks of the New York Public Library.”
The older homosexual addresses the young man’s reluctance to plunge into this hedonistic maelstrom by suggesting he abandon his career ambitions (“Please don’t feel you have an obligation to be secretary of state,” he says), and providing him a drug, persuading him it isn’t as bad as the hog tranquilizers (used to induce “the profound ease felt by a Nebraska hog about to be castrated and bled to death”) many in the room ingested.
Next, this older “mentor” points out someone “so bitter about his fate (of having a small penis) that when he developed a case of syphilis he went to the baths and infected everyone he could who sported an enormous organ.”
He then advises the youth, “You are beginning a journey, far more bizarre than any excursion up the Nile,” concluding, “For tonight, my dear, you are a homosexual!”
That scene reflected the reality of the times, but was so horribly wrong on so many levels, especially the infuriating contention that plunging into a sex and drug-laden club scene defines one as a homosexual.
That lad was a homosexual from birth, and with a world full of opportunity to bring his unique gifts to bear, gifts often unique to homosexuals, that can impart a powerful force for love and in the process, find and share it for himself, as well.
But there were many, many profoundly immoral older homosexual carnivores like Holleran’s character, slyly recruiting neophytes into a world of gross hedonistic excess with the help of drugs and coercion, and using counterculture “philosophies” like “if it feels good, do it,” and the subordination of creative aspirations to instant sexual gratification.
For predatory letches, the more youths they can induce into mindless excess, depersonalization and addiction (and, way too soon, a casket), the more they’ll become meat for them, if not for sex, as customers to buy their drugs and porn. Also, as with avenging a disadvantage by deliberately spreading syphilis, there’s the angry, self-loathing of such aging queens, obsessed with contaminating and ruining the young and pretty.
It didn’t have to be that way. By contrast, in 1972, the same era as Holleran’s Twelfth Floor scene, I wrote a piece for the Berkeley Barb, one of three essays of mine included in the first published collection of post-Stonewall writings, “The Gay Liberation Book” (Ramparts Press, 1973, first edition only). Entitled “David,” I wrote about my experience with a young man from an Iowa farm forced to become a hustler after running away to San Francisco.
He was cold and distant when I befriended him, I wrote. “It wasn’t hard for me to understand why,” I wrote. “I represented just another older man to him, an older man who didn’t really care about him, but just wanted his body. It pained me because it was plain how much he desired honest affection, and how much threat of exploitation there was in every move toward affection with me.”
I offered to pay him just to talk with me, and when that happened, he was astonished. A few months later, he knocked on my door. He had overdosed and thought he was dying and I was the only person he knew who, he thought, could help him.
He stayed a few days with me, went home to Iowa (where he’d received electroshock therapy for being gay), couldn’t take it, and came back. We spent a lot of time talking after that, and I concluded in my essay that because of his understanding of oppression, and his ability to equate his own with that of women, “David understands gay liberation, I think, better than all those bourgeois queers in gay organizations who talk about their own liberation while continuing to oppress women and younger men like David.”