Scenes from Early Life – Philip Hensher

SFAEL(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

Crafted from stories told him by his Bangladeshi partner, Hensher takes us into 1970s ‘East Pakistan’, on the verge of proclaiming independence. After partition, ‘these two new countries – India and Pakistan, East and West – they looked on the map like a broad-shouldered ape with two coconuts, one on its right shoulder, one under its left armpit.’ But despite their both being Moslem areas, Bangladesh retained a strong affinity with Hindu literature, its native Bengali tongue, a more moderate take on religion. And as troops were sent in from Pakistan to enforce a more fundamentalist lifestyle, terrible violence and terror ensues.

I didn’t enjoy this as much as Hensher’s novels, probably because I read it on a long train journey full of distractions.

That being said, the descriptions are vivid, as one expects from his work, and a brutal rape scene stands out, as does the subsequent killing of a baby by soldiers.

The islamicisation of a school curriculum with a change of deputy head reminds me of the way the Nazis used education to indoctrinate.

A curfew made it difficult to queue for and buy food.

The black and white photos capture the atmosphere well.

SFAEL 2Quotations:

“It is quite an ordinary story, but the implications are tremendous.”

“I was a baby during the war. We stayed inside for months. All my aunts took turns in feeding me. I couldn’t be heard to cry. You see, there were soldiers in the streets. They would have known what a crying baby meant. So I had to be kept silent. No, not everyone came out of the war alive.”

“In 1947, the British left India, and it was split in two: India and Pakistan.

“Pakistan was to be for the Muslims, and India for the rest. Many people died making their way to their new homeland, killed by gangs on the railways or on the roads.

“Pakistan was a single nation, but anyone could see that it was split in two.”

“To the left was West Pakistan, where they ruled, and spoke Urdu, and wrote in an alphabet that flowed like water under wind. To the right was East Pakistan, where the Bengalis lived. They spoke Bengali, which chatters like a falling xylophone, and is written in an alphabet that looks like a madman trying to remember a table’s shape.”

“All the time Amit’s playing was full of pensive thought and possibility. Altaf felt that those pauses and falterings, like a bird cocking its head and waiting between flourishes of flight, came from Amit’s listening to Altaf’s harmonium. … And performing to the ear of so good and attentive a partner, Altaf could hear his own musical lines grow more flexible, inward, and fantastic.”

“trudging backwards and forwards with an uncomplaining gait, like a badly oiled clockwork toy that threatened to walk in circles”.

“the storks picking elegantly, like rich ladies in white draped saris, through the mud”

“out of the flood in gangs, their wet flanks flashing in the sun”.

Sometimes a new friend slips into your life unobtrusively, as if you have been walking quietly along when out from a doorway steps a familiar easy presence. He makes a brief remark in greeting, and falls companionably into the rhythm of your stride, so that you hardly remember what it was like to walk alone. So it was with Altaf and Amit

“Laddu’s face was in the dirt of the street, pressed into the mud and the scattering of fine, delicious sweets, and he saw a boot descending as he shut his eyes. ‘That is not your wife,’ the officer in charge said in a level voice. ‘That must not be your wife.’ He looked at Sharmin, screaming, and, with a thoughtful air, called her a terrible name.”

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The Emperor Waltz – Philip Hensher

TEW2As with all Hensher’s novels, this is extremely well-written with vivid descriptions of people and places that you can visualise. The author captures atmospheres. It shows the power of books.

Our group felt this book to be more mature than ‘King of Badgers.’ People found it ‘really interesting’ and wanted to find out more about the Bauhaus and to listen to the music.

It starts with the innocence of Christian Vogt in his new surroundings and his encounter withy a group of artists in the Weimar Republic, including Klee, Kandinsky, the Bauhaus school, artists and philosophers, experimenting with form, ideas, spiritual development – Johannes Itten and Mazdaznan. The importance of art in developing ‘humanity’ is set against the destructive, violent background of emerging fascism.

The Bauhaus was far from popular: I am sure that the Bauhaus will chase the love of beauty out of you very quickly, and replace it with a love of steel and sharp corners. I saw a soup plate that one of them had made. It was square. The absurdity!’

I had fond memories of my time in Berlin as different areas are mentioned.

There was a good, brief reference to the hyper-inflation of the time – where you paid for your coffee before drinking it because the price would have doubled by the end of your drinking it.

There was also reference to a man in a village as simply ‘the Jew.’ Later: `That’s an awful Jew,’ Gebhardt said.

`I know him,’ Leitner said. ‘He teaches at the Gymnasium. He teaches my niece mathematics, I believe. A Jew like that, teaching at the Gymnasium.’

`A disgrace,’ Gebhardt said. ‘Where’s he going now?’

`They’ve seen a chance to lisped and whined as he talked, making what he thought of as a Jewish voice. ‘Son of mine, watch how their money flows into our pockets, and stays there. Plot and plan, my son, plot and plan.’

`Most of them know better than to walk down the Bott­chergasse,’ Harbach said.

`If Wolff were here, he’d be explaining about the blood and inheritance that makes the Jew stoop like that, makes him clever,’ Gebhardt said. He and Leitner and Harbach were conceded to be very good fellows. But they were not very sophisticated about their understanding of the world. They understood this fact, too, and were often to be heard referring in respectful, jeering tones to the theorists of the movement, like Wolff. He had read deeply in scientists who understood the difference between the races; he understood in detail what Leitner and Gebhardt and Harbach and their kind, very decent fellows who were the life and soul of the movement grasped through instinctive revulsion.

`It’s the blood of centuries, hawked around half of Europe and half of Asia, by the cosmopolites,’ Leitner said. ‘Look at the cosmopolite. He couldn’t punch a soldier in the face. He wouldn’t have gone to war. He’d have found some clever way out of it.’

`There was a Jew in our battalion, a butcher’s son from Berlin,’ Gebhardt said. ‘How he yelled when he found out that his wife was dead! Dead of the influenza. He yelled and screamed and howled when he got the letter. But the comrades in the battalion, many of them met the same fate. Did he yell then? No. Prob­ably working out ways to sell their uniforms back to the army.’

`You’re letting that Jew get away,’ Harbach said.

`It’s so nice and warm in here,’ Gebhardt said. ‘And it is only one Jew. We could let him go on his way. Oh, very well.’

They hauled themselves to their feet and left the cafe. Leitner let out a hostile shout into the street, and the Jew and his child, now in their effrontery at the end of the Bottchergasse, both looked round. It was as if they were expecting to be greeted by friends who just happened to be sitting in the Cafe Harbach. make some money,’ Harbach said, coming over in his apron to observe.

`Taking his child out, too,’ Gebhardt said. ‘They want their children to learn early how to make money.’

`My little son,’ Leitner said, hunching up his shoulders. He

…..With every five words, the man was throwing a note into the air. Julius did nothing. He knew that to scramble after money would persuade them to put their boot on the back of i his neck. It was so little, the money, so little.

`You love money,’ the fat man said. ‘And we love our country. \That is the difference. That is why we are going to win in the lend. You can’t live on the money that you love so much, can you? Here—’ and he took the money from his comrade. He / took seven or eight notes from the top, screwed them up, and now pushed them into Julius’s face. He would have forced them into his mouth, but Julius would not open it. His teeth were clamped shut. That noise was the noise of Lotte crying, and calling for her mummy. But Mummy could not hear. ‘There, thief,’ the fat man said. He cast the money down to the ground. `You earned it. Enjoy it while you can.’

The trains managed to run during heavy snow.

An older man made a pass at a young man in a railway compartment and was rebuffed, the younger man assuming that this was a medical condition which could be cured.

Unrealistically: Christian’s longing was for the fire of the future, the high-banked and roaring fire that he would insist on once they were married. He observed that, in the coal scuttle, there remained only three pieces of coal. Adele gave the impression of being a good and practical housewife, but her cake was not very good, and her coffee was awful, and surely a good and practical housewife would have made a better estimate of the amount of coal she needed to bring up from the coal cellar.

The callow, new teacher asking questions that get smart alec responses from the teenagers echoes many memories from those of us when we were starting out in teaching.

The second movement is the emergence of gay and lesbian liberation, and movement ‘out of the closet’ from the late 1970s, following the fortunes particularly of one gay man and his circle, who opens a gay bookshop. Literature changes consciousness and is changed by it.

The differing aims of CHE, between those who wanted to campaign and those who sought a social club are well expressed: the confusion with the South American struggle?’ Andrew said. Andrew was the most revolutionary of them or, really, the only one. `It’s being called CHE that does it,’ Nat said. ‘They think it’s something to do with that man they all like so much, the one with the beard and the gaze upwards, you know, Che Guevara. That’s the third time we’ve had that. We should really spell out what we are on the poster, write Campaign for Homosexual Equality, then they wouldn’t come upstairs by mistake.’ `I don’t know,’ Simon said. ‘I don’t mind them coming upstairs. One was quite nice. I was sorry to see him go, to be honest. That one I wasn’t so bothered about.’ `People talk about anal sex as though it’s the be-all and end-all of gay identity,’ Christopher said. He had been trying to revert to what he had been saying before the bearded man came in. `And for me it was very important. But I understand if people don’t want to assert it as important. For me —’ `I don’t think we can really write Campaign for Homosexual Equality on the poster,’ Alan said. ‘The landlord might have views about that.’ `Well, we’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. Honestly!’ Nat said. ‘I thought the point of all of this was to be proud and public. I don’t see anything proud and public about hiding behind initials, in case the landlord doesn’t like it.’

Many of us remember tortuous, idealistic conversations such as: `The shares — they shot up. Doubled in value. Massive profits for private enterprise, off the back of dead people,’ Andrew said. `Every dead gay man means another million in condom sales. Every one. Did you know that?’

`On the other hand,’ Nat said, dropping the package on the floor, `if you use a condom, you’re probably not going to die, fingers crossed.’

`We’re all going to die,’ Andrew said. ‘Capitalism can’t stop people dying. And it can’t stop the progress of progressive working-class thought. Promiscuity is a radical critique of the heteronormative structures of this society,’ he went on, and thoughtfully rolled it round his tongue once more. ‘Promiscuity, Nat, is a deeply — profoundly — radical critique of the heter­onormative structures that keep everyone in this society in place. Surely you can understand that.’

Oh, do shut up, Nat thought. Honestly. You don’t half go on, Nat thought. And it was all too clear how this one would end. He would talk and grouse and then he would say that it was important to get your point across after all, and he would get into the car with his green eyeshadow on and his flowery dress and his Doc Martens. My days, how that Andrew goes on, Nat thought, and there isn’t even a drink in the house apart from parsnip wine and if you were very lucky some organic potato vodka made by Welsh lesbians, which you could have with beetroot juice. And the party would end with Andrew pawing at someone, drunk as a skunk, and still going on about capitalist structures. A bit less energy devoted to grousing, and a bit more to housework, would work miracles with Andrew.

There is an acrimonious deathbed scene between Duncan and his father. The money from his (altered) will goes towards opening a gay bookshop. The other shop owners speculate about the number of business that come, fail and go – you’d think that people did some research before risking their life savings. But I know they don’t because I have seen it happen time and time again where I live: To put a sum of money into a shop was not to submit to the nature of London, where money melts like a wine gum in the mouth, but to transform expenditure into investment, which will grow and grow, and make a man rich.

The description of an uncertain customer rings true to my earlier experience: He had walked past the bookshop three times before entering: he did not give the impres­sion of coming to bookshops much, and had stood for a second on the mat, breathing in the atmosphere of a gay shop, not sure where to start. Arthur liked this sort of customer. He would start by looking at the picture books, hoping for a bit of smut, and then he would circle the shop, finding the Californian academic texts on gay people in the middle ages and the recon­struction of gender a little taxing. Some of them would work to left or right, picking up books in a desultory and undecided way, and would discover a novel with a man on the front — if he was lucky, an American small-press gay thriller; if he was unlucky, the paperback of Querelle de Brest. The speculatively acquired pile would return to Tooting or Cardiff.

After the raid by Customs (police in this book), we all chipped in to support the shop and its staff.

The comment on The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst was fun: `It’s about rich people, isn’t it?’ Andrew said. ‘Rich people fucking poor people. Charming.’

`It’s fantastic,’ Arthur said. ‘Have you read it? Well, you should. Everyone’s reading it. We keep quoting bits of it to each other. The big bookshops only ordered five copies each, if that, and they were caught on the hop, so everyone for a week had to come and get it from us if they wanted a copy. We’ve had all sorts in. They’ve come in for that and then they’ve said, I didn’t know you were here, and they’ve wandered round and bought all sorts. It’s been fantastic. We’ve never had such a fortnight. It’s not just poor people, it’s poor black people that get fucked in it, Andrew.

The frustration of being on a bus, being held up by someone who can’t find the right money, is accurate, at least as far as I am concerned.

The description of an AIDS funeral where the duty priest covers it up by talking of a ‘rare Chinese bone disease’ captures the times well.

Opportunism? : that he’d go over to Freddie’s once a week and take the money and do whatever Freddie wanted him to do. that he’d go over to Freddie’s once a week and take the money and do whatever Freddie wanted him to do.

I had to look up capercaillie – huge woodland grouse

Also Pierrot – not a detective but a sad clown of Commedia dell’Arte.

And bibelot = a small object of curiosity, beauty, or rarity.

Both the Weimar and the London early 80s movements show actions of casual unthinking prejudice that in some ways are more shocking than bloody violence, as in a sense the casual events, the casual low level prejudices, unchecked, are what swell, eventually into violence.

In the future we see a small group of young London boys going through puberty, right in the middle of macho posturing, engaged in metropolitan gangsta speak, experimenting with drugs and getting slowly wasted, whilst, downstairs, their sophisticated cosmopolitan parents, blissfully unaware, discuss education, economics and office etiquette.

The third movement is set in Ancient Rome, and concerns Christianity as a fledgling religion, treated violently by the state. Later, Christianity will itself become an instrument, later in history, of oppression and state control. His account of the trial of Christians by magistrates reflects verbatim accounts of the time and his description of an amphitheatre makes me think he was writing about Carthage in Tunis. Indeed, he describes Perpetua’s dreams which are well documented. He doesn’t name her companion Felicity; then again that would be par for the course for a slave girl.

The movement about the time the author spent in A + E, and later in a medical ward of a London Hospital, as a result of complications linked with his diabetes, shows how the artist himself works, how literature is crafted – and how important connection and community is. There are outcasts in this section – those who live on the margins through poverty, mental health issues and alcohol abuse. Hensher and his supportive community of friends and family are now the golden ones.

The description of the work of the chiropodist rings true, as does he various prescription shoes on offer for free on the NHS.

The title is a reference to the piece of music by Strauss which, with a blackbird’s song recurs throughout.

You wonder how all these different stories, or movements, are connected but gradually everything clicks into place. Teapots and stuffed parrots can travel. There was a powerful connecting up of the threads and a motif going all the way through. Martyrdom runs throughout and one asked if the reference to St. Perpetua hinted at the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

It is postmodern – though one suggested that the author had several undeveloped stories and he threw them altogether and made links.

We detected a degree of cynicism because few people came across as authentic, especially women.

One minor gripe – the dust jacket is very unpleasant to hold and leaves fingerprints, like there’s something slippery that has been mixed with the paper.

Examples of the breadth of language:

‘”The fuck up,” Nathan said. “Ain’t amusing, wallad”‘

‘long, laden boats sliding noiselessly over the grey-surfaced river below, with the silent pregnant greatness of the boats in Homer’.

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Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.: a Documentary History – Jonathan Ned Katz

GAH(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Because homosexuality was seen as a perversion few people were prepared to chronicle its history. The author explains: Only recently have the first two Ph.D. theses on homosexuality been permitted in the history and political science departments of American universities. The writers were both warned that they were risking their academic careers by taking up this topic; both went ahead nevertheless. I know of two other recent instances in which a history department and an English department did not allow theses on homosexual subjects; another German department Ph.D. candidate was discouraged from writing on homosexual literature because the topic would impair future teaching prospects. Researching the present work without capitalization from academia took considerable ingenuity, and could not have been accomplished without the valuable voluntary assistance of a number of Gay people and a few heterosexuals, all named in the acknowledgments. This book is significantly not a product of academia; it does not play it safe; it is rough at the edges, radical at heart. …….We have been the silent minority, the silenced minority–invisible women, invisible men. Early on, the alleged enormity of our “sin” justified the denial of our existence, even our physical destruction. Our “crime” was not merely against society, not only against humanity, but “against nature”–we were outlaws against the universe. Long did we remain literally and metaphorically unspeakable, “among Christians not to be named”–nameless. To speak our name, to roll that word over the tongue, was to make our existence tangible, physical; it came too close to some mystical union with us, some carnal knowledge of that “abominable” ghost, that lurking possibility within. For long, like women conceived only in relation to men, we were allowed only relative intellectual existence, conceived only in relation to, as deviants from, a minority of–an “abnormal” and embarrassing poor relation. For long we were a people perceived out of time and out of place–socially unsituated, without a history–the mutant progeny of some heterosexual union, freaks. Our existence as a long-oppressed, long-resistant social group was not explored. We remained an unknown people, our character defamed. The heterosexual dictatorship has tried to keep us out of sight and out of mind; its homosexuality taboo has kept us in the dark. That time is over. The people of the shadows have seen the light; Gay people are coming out–and moving on–to organized action against an oppressive society.

The book is divided into six sections: “Trouble: 1566-1966,” “Treatment: 1884-1974,” “Passing Women: 1782-1920,” “Native Americans/Gay Americans: 1528-1976,” “Resistance: 1859-1972,” and “Love: 1779-1932.”

The first section on “Trouble” is all about the different ways in which gays and lesbians have been oppressed throughout history, stretching from the first known case of a homosexual being executed in America through the Cold War anti-gay witch hunts of the 1950s and 1960s. Katz spells it out graphically: During the four hundred years documented here, American homosexuals were condemned to death by choking, burning, and drowning; they were executed, jailed, pilloried, fined, court-martialed, prostituted, fired, framed, blackmailed, disinherited, declared insane, driven to insanity, to suicide, murder, and self-hate, witch-hunted, entrapped, stereotyped, mocked, insulted, isolated, pitied, castigated, and despised…Homosexuals and their behavior were characterized by the terms “abomination,” “crime against nature,” “sin,” “monster,” “fairies,” “bull dykes,” and “perverts.” The vicious judgments such terms expressed were sometimes internalized by Lesbians and Gay men with varying results–from feelings of guilt and worthlessness, to trouble in relating to other homosexuals, to the most profound mental disturbances and antisocial behavior. External judgments internalized became self-oppression; reexternalized this might result in behavior destructive to the self and others. Heterosexual society conditioned homosexuals to act as the agents of their own destruction, to become victims of themselves. But always, finally, they were oppressed, situated in a society that outlawed and denied them.

Mr. Eaton, the governor of New Haven, wrote to the governor of the Bay, to desire the advice of the magistrates and elders in a special case, which was this: one Plaine of Guilford being discovered to have used some unclean practices, upon examination and testimony, it was found, that being a married man, he had committed sodomy with two persons and England, and that he had corrupted a great part of the youth of Guilford by masturbations, which he had committed, and provoked others to the like above a hundred times; and to some who questioned the lawfulness of such filthy practice, he did insinuate seeds of atheism, questioning whether there was a God, etc. The magistrates and elders (so many as were at hand) did all agree, that he ought to die, and gave divers reasons from the word of God. And indeed it was horrendum facinus [a dreadful crime], and he a monster in human shape, exceeding all human rules and examples that ever had been heard of, and it tended to the frustrating of the ordinance of marriage and the hindering the generation of mankind.

There is an excerpt from a paper presented at an international medico-legal congress in 1893 by Dr. F.E. Daniel of Austin, Texas. It’s entitled “Should Insane Criminals or Sexual Perverts Be Allowed to Procreate?” His answer: In lieu thereof [execution], and as a solution to the most difficult problem in sociology which confronts the learned professions today, and as a measure calculated to fulfill all the ends and aims of criminal jurisprudence, castration is proposed. I say “castration” and not “asexualization,” because that applies as well to women; and in sexual perversion the woman is usually passive; she can not commit a rape, at all events (though she can practice sexual abominations that shock morals, wreck health, and worse, can transmit her defects to posterity)…

…I would substitute castration as a penalty for all sexual crimes or misdemeanors, including confirmed masturbation.

Some advocated group psychotherapy and suggested that the recipients should pay for it out of their own pockets, much like alcoholics.

McCarthy didn’t pick on Jews because he was too close to the Nazi era, so he picked on communists and gays.

During that era, an official wanted all homosexuals sacked from government work. He did not care what definition of ‘homosexual’ was – anything would do and any number of people would have their careers and lives wrecked. He didn’t want to know the facts. He just wanted them out because they supposedly were a security risk.

Homosexuals were worse than murderers: I think the sin of homosexuality is worse than the sin, of murder. But see here,” and his voice lowers in intensity “we’re getting into a ‘point of hate and this we want to avoid. Were going to lose whatever sense we have about the thing. We can’t hate them. The point is to love them. Now how do you do this? How do you love a homosexual?. You love him this way. You put him in prison.”

Seeing my incredulity, he says: “You put the homosexual in prison out of love not hate, because if he’s ever going to have a chance it’s going to be by taking him away from making other people like he is. Because this is then worst thing he can do, Being a homosexual is bad enough, the fact that he might make someone else that he might make someone else that way is the most horrible thing he can do. So you’re really doing him a favor by taking him out of circulation.

One man with a weak heart was given an emetic which caused a heart attack and killed him. How incompetent of the medics.

One ‘cure’ was hard work or sublimation into music or art.

Psychoanalysis didn’t cure people any more than Popeye’s spinach made people strong.

Overwhelmingly, gay men started out at ages 14-15.

The Daughters of Billitis printed its four-part statement of purpose inside the front cover of The Ladder, defining itself as “A Women’s Organization for the Purpose of Promoting the Integration of the Homosexual into Society…” The word Lesbian was not used once. The purposes were: 1. Education of the variant…to enable her to understand herself and make her adjustment to society…this to be accomplished by establishing…a library…on the sex deviant theme; by sponsoring public discussions…to be conducted by leading members of the legal, psychiatric, religious and other professions; by advocating a mode of behavior and dress acceptable to society.

Education of the public…leading to an eventual breakdown of erroneous taboos and prejudices…

Participation in research projects by duly authorized and responsible psychologists, sociologists, and other such experts directed towards further knowledge of the homosexual.

Investigation of the penal code as it pertains to the homosexual, proposal of changes,…and promotion of these changes through the due process of law in the state legislatures.

There’s a lesbian who was excommunicated (‘withdrawn from fellowship’) from her Baptist church for dressing in men’s clothing but who later concludes that she is being persecuted for her beliefs.

There’s a long (32 pages) case history of someone called ‘H’, towards whom I am very sympathetic. I had to look up the games she played as a child: Crack the Whip – a simple outdoor children’s game that involves physical coordination, and is usually played in small groups, either on grass or ice. One player, chosen as the “head” of the whip, runs (or skates) around in random directions, with subsequent players holding on to the hand of the previous player. The entire “tail” of the whip moves in those directions, but with much more force toward the end of the tail. The longer the tail, the more the forces act on the last player, and the tighter they have to hold on. As the game progresses, and more players fall off, some of those who were previously located near the end of the tail and have fallen off can “move up” and be in a more secure position by grabbing onto the tail as it is moving, provided they can get back on before some of the others do. There is no objective to this game other than the enjoyment of the experience.

There was another game called ‘Black Man’ but the only reference I could find was top a board game that simulated the various perils of being in a minority group, trying to avoid the police while getting to university and a decent job.

For those who thought that GayLib was a 20th Century phenomenon: A brief news story reports the formation in July 1975, in San Francisco, of the first Gay American Indian liberation organization.

While native Americans are organizing to reclaim their culture, gay Indians are organizing, too.

Barbara Cameron and Randy Burns are co-leaders of the newly-formed Gay American Indians group in San Fran­cisco. Barbara works at the American Indian Center in the city.

Randy is a student at San Francisco State and a member of the Student Council of American Natives.

Together, they are attempting to return to the bases of Gay Indian pride.

“When I first came to San Francisco, I didn’t know anyone, gay, Indian, or anything,” Randy said. I remember reading an article in Fag Rag about the place gay people had in the Indian culture before the invasion of the white man’s values and education.

“I was like a lot of Indian people who came to the city during the ‘4os and ‘5os, the Bureau of Indian Affairs located many Indians to the cities. A lot of them were gay Indians who had ‘lost’ the respect of their tribes. They came to the cities and turned suicidal, alcoholic and stereo­typically cross-dressed.”

“My grandparents were forced to attend an eastern hoarding school and had Christianity beat into them,” Bar­bara added. “I thought, you know, that I was the only lesbian Indian in the world. Then I met my lover. I was really alienated. I felt trapped between my Indian culture and the society. That’s the position of most gay Indians because it’s the position of Indians as a whole. I really align myself with Indians first and gay people second.”

“So in July of ’75, Barbara and I and some others—about io of us—decided to start GAI,” Randy said.

They had little trouble organizing, but there were some objections to their distributing fliers, announcing the group’s formation, at the American Indian Center.

“The former director of the center asked me if I wasn’t!, worried about offending some people when I put up our fliers,” Rand:, said. “I ignored the question, and wend ahead with putting them up.”

From that beginning in July, the group has grown to about 3o members.

“We were first and foremost a group for each other,” Barbara said. “Bringing together gay Indians is our most important current task. We have no grandiose plans be­yond that.”

“It has really brought together old and young Indians in a new way,” Randy said. ‘”We are really trying to break down stereotypes in both directions. In the Indian com­munity, we are trying to realign ourselves with the tram­pled traditions of our people. Gay people were respected parts of the tribes. Some were artists and medicine people. So we supply speakers from the group to appear at Indian gatherings. Sometimes we are booed or jeered, but it doesn’t last long.

“In the gay community, we’re trying to break down the image of the Indian as a macho militant that gay white people have.”

“We also participate in demonstrations and political ac­tion for Indian concerns,” Barbara adds. “We cooperate with third world groups. We also have a weekly radio show on KPOO here in the city.”

Randy is Piute. Barbara is Lakota (Sioux). There are about 20 tribes represented in the group. It is predomi­nantly male, but that imbalance is offset by having dual male/ female leadership.

“The heavy male trip does bother me somewhat,” Bar­bara admitted. “But we do what we can to consciously combat sexism in the group. We are trying to reach more lesbian Indians. It will take a long time. For now, it’s important that Indians know that there are gay Indians, both sexes.”

How do they feel about the Bicentennial? “Angry,” Barbara stated flatly. “It’s ridiculous. What should Indians celebrate? Two-hundred years of broken promises, land theft, genocide and rape? It is one thing to talk about ‘celebration’ and another to look at the little Vietnam the government has going in South Dakota. We’re going to be demonstrating in Philadelphia in ’76. There are Tor demonstrations at Mount Rushmore. Gay Indians will he there.”

How does it stand, historically and personally, between Way people and Indians?

Barbara summarizes: . . . Probably the most together the in the country, the ones who have best retained the old ways and traditions, are the Pueblos. Gay people are Ntill accorded positions of respect in the tribe. Some are haulers, medicine people. . . .

What are the plans for the immediate future?

“Like we said, we don’t have any grand plans,” Randy I “We do want to get other groups started. We’ll likely begin in New York City, then try to branch out to New Mexico, Minneapolis, places where some of us have personal contacts.

‘We hope to get a forum going in Akwesasne Notes, the national newspaper of the American Indian Movement. We need to get our own newsletter going, too. Mostly, though, our work will continue to be among ourselves: mutual support, socializing, and help.”

Their optimism is refreshing. It is new, born of a grow­ing awareness that America isn’t what it could be. They are using “white man’s medicine”: the media, communications, and politics. If they do succeed in reasserting the wisdom of native American tribes concerning gay people, all of us will benefit.”

For those who think is all about going on marches: American Gay history includes a long and little-known tradition of resistance. This resistance has taken varied forms, from the isolated acts of lone in­dividuals, from the writing of letters, poems, essays, book-length treatises defending homosexuality, or novels presenting homosexuals as human beings—to the consciously “political” organizing of a group united for action against antihomosexual bigots and institutionalized persecution. In its more individualis­tic forms, this resistance may today not always be immediately recognizable as such.

Turning traditional interpretation on its head, in what I am sure is the correct view: How far this process may go we hardly yet but that it is one of the factors of future evolution hardly doubt. I mean that the loves of men towards other—and similarly the loves of women for each —may become factors of future human evolution just necessary and well-recognised as the ordinary loves lead to the . . . propagation of the race. If so, we safely say that we see here in operation a great power such is already playing its part in moulding the world, ad one which we are morally bound not to deny and disown, and not to run away from, at the risk of denying humanity and committing the sin, so execrated in the New Testament, of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.”

As in England, many clergy were at the forefront in urging gay rights.

It was hard to organise because many people didn’t want their names on mailing lists which might be seized by the police, who acted like some modern day Spanish Inquisition. I always wondered how the Mattachine Society got its name. It means ‘masked’.

That prominent historical figures were claimed to have been gay was explained as ‘misery seeks company.’

Radclife Hall’s book ‘The Well of Loneliness’ shouldn’t have been censored. After all, it’s so depressing that it could act as anti-homosexual propaganda.

Two lesbians read from their prayer book and ‘meant every word of it.’

I wondered what ‘women passing’ meant until I realised that they dressed as/ passed as men.

There are very detailed footnotes.

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Flaws In The Glass: A Self Portrait – Patrick White

FITG(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

His style is tedious and it encourages a lot of skipping. Some hilarious accounts of his prep school house master being so obsessed with sex that it encouraged it. An interesting account of how he felt he belonged neither to Australia, where he was born, nor England, where he was educated as he had been taken out of one society but not firmly implanted into another. He owes a lot to en older lover who taught him what he knows about culture but who also imparted a snobbery very similar to many tales of people being influenced beyond recognition by more dominant partners. He had not felt the benefit of any grace when he was confirmed because he nervously knelt on a step too low and the bishop couldn’t really reach. He went through the prayers in a manual each fortnight before communion always hoping for a miracle that he would feel something. This miracle never happened. His later lover was Greek Orthodox – a faith which relies less on emotion as it has a lot of ritual paraphernalia – unlike protestantism which is over-wordy. Ceremonial can appeal to many levels and does not require intellectual assent in the way that Protestantism does. In the war he is obssesed with the fatalistic look in Greek eyes. Turned down the chance to be initiated into Jewish mysticism – he had been researching this for a novel but remarks that novelists become superficial because they read up a subject sufficiently to write about it end then move on to the next subject. As in his residence, so in his interests, he has no abiding city.

(Patrick White (1912—1990), the Australian writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973, was undoubtedly one of the most powerful novelists of the 20th Century.  With his rare and varied gifts and exceptional vision of the world,  he has been hailed as a “phenomenon…a challenge”)


‘Growing up in a period when drabness was expected of the male sex, my vanity could not express itself through dress.. Instead I suppose I’ve indulged my vanity by tricking myself out in words. Not all ornamentation.Part of me is austere enough to have conveyed the truth, I like to think, but again that could be vanity’

” When I sailed form Piraeus I was painfully haunted by the thin trickle of a tune squeezed from the concertina-player’s chest as he stumped through the streets winding around the Lykavittos, and the almost solid blast of perfume from stocks in the fields fringing the city. All this is gone by now.”

“Jerry-built apartment blocks stand in the fields where the stocks grew; exhaust fumes from unmufflered cars cannot escape from the labyrinth of Lykavittos. Never were there such victims of progress as contemporary Greeks. Peasants who sold their fields in Thessaly and Thrace live like battery fowls on their steel and concrete balconies or expose themselves to television in the cells behind, in every interior the same box flickering the same message. They tell themselves they are happy. They are prosperous, at least for the time being, stuffed with macaroni, fried potatoes , and barbecued meat. Livery and neurotic. The human contacts of village life are of the past, along with those tough, golden, classic, hens scratching freely amongst the dust and stones”.

Crete “turned out to be a bit of a trial”

“Poetry resists academic pretension, just as the mystery of religious faith evaporates on contact with dogma.”

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The Tree of Man – Patrick White.

TTOM(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Read for another Book Group. Very densely packed, it had to be read in small doses and slowly. A wealth of characters and minute observations. It traces the life of a husband and wife in the Australian outback as they have children and their isolated community grows into a sizeable village, with the consequent interaction of people.

It includes the sterility of their religious experience and their common humanity in times of natural disasters. I didn’t have enough patience to give this book all the concentration and the time it required but I shall be interested to see what other people in the group say when it is discussed.


“Iron lace hung from dark pubs, and the heavy smells of spilled beer. Dreams broke from windows. And cats lifted the lid off all politeness.”

“with all the appearance of aimlessness, which is the impression that spiritual activity frequently gives.”

“…that she was not to come closer to this man, she saw, or perhaps to anyone. Each one was wrapped in his mystery that he could not solve.”

“I am simple, and do not know myself.”

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Flame: A Life on the Game — ‘Flame’

(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)Flame

True story about a (male) prostitute.

When a teacher told him he’d no ambition, Stephen just kept dumb and thought to himself: “I’m not going to stay around here working in a factory, honey. I’m going OUT THERE, where there’s LIFE. I’m going to be a prostitute, just like my mum”.

Hilarious and sad. Although the author has lived superficially and become wealthy, the cliche about use of the body for objective sex hindering the ability to love and be loved is clearly not true in this case. The prostitute has an almost pastoral role for clients.

Some intriguing allusions to fairly famous people in government.

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