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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