Periwinkle Dragonfly

From Women in Love to Gay Liberation

posted by on 08.25.2014, under Blog

Yesterday I finally finished Robert Hofler’s Sexplosion, about the taboo-breaking films and books of 1968-73. I remember all of them as they came out and I became of age during this time. I remember seeing Women in Love as an undergrad in 1972 with my then girlfriend Sheera. I was totally blown away by the nude wrestling scene between Gerald (Oliver Reed) and Rupert (Alan Bates). I was very much into D.H. Lawrence in my undergraduate years, reading him as secretly homosexual. After all the supreme union was between two men and this wrestling scene was a high point of the film. While called Women in Love to me it was all about men in love. I did not see any hint of gay men being masculine in the gay lib movement years I was living in. Gay activists tended to be more hippie-ish. I would soon discover the leather scene and read profusely from the small library of books on the subject. Larry Townsend’s The Leatherman’s Handbook became a Bible for me into masculine gay love. But during the years I was at SUNY Albany (1971-74) I did not know about the leathermen. At the time I thought being gay meant wearing dresses in drag, having pursed lips and being catty. It was only after I moved to Germany that I began to read the GLF literature, the plethora of books, like The Healthy Homosexual and The Gay Mystique, that were being published in rapid succession.

My only contact with gay men during my Albany years, when I was 19 and 20 years old was with tricks. I’d pick up a guy in either GJ’s Gallery or the Central Arms, a bohemian bar and the a gay bar, and my knowledge of gay men was very sketchy. Mostly I would wake up early and leave a note of thanks behind, and slip out the door before the guy woke up. I was really wary about getting more involved n any “gay lifestyle.” I don’t think I was aware of “gay community” at the time. These were simply random sexual partners I picked up. I tried very hard to keep y gay activities separate from my life on campus and in my fraternity.

But the nude wrestling scene was very important to me. It held out an image of two masculine men, who had girlfriends, but who secretly were wrestling with being in love with each. I also saw Midnight Cowboy and was completely devastated by that film. I read it as Ratso (Dustin Hoffmann) had a crush on the Jon Voit character. I did not understand at that age that Voit dressing up as a cowboy was a gay hustler’s costume. I’ve seen the film a few times now, and it blows me away what a brilliant piece of film-making it is. Later I would grow tired of D.H. Lawrence’s closeted homosexuality. I became downright angry with Lawrence after I’d discovered E.M. Forster and read Maurice. Now there was a story the way Lawrence should have written it.

The 1970s saw the birth of gay presses and the origins of a real gay library of books available for anyone to buy. AS I traveled in the US I always looked for the local gay newspaper, in Boston, New York City San Francisco, and I even came across GPU News out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I subscribed to the Advocate, which on those years was more of an activist newspaper with its notorious pink insert section with all the personal ads in it. I read publications out of London and the gay magazines out of Germany, like Revolt (German edition) and Du und Ich and Don.

One I came out all the way in Germany I read a lot of gay literature. T was mostly American and British books, both fiction and gay li stuff. It totally changed my perspective to read books that saw homosexuality as normal and natural and gays as the victims of a homophobic society. It was not the gay man who was the problem, but rather the sick and twisted thinking of heterosexual society. I became a very angry activist in Germany.

I kept up with what has happening in the US by reading the Advocate, GPU News, Gay Sunshine, and Fag Rag. I also read Guy Hocquenheim’s Homosexual Desire and Foucault’s History of Sexuality Part I, plus all the gay activist materials in Germany I could lay hands on. I discovered Rosa von Praunheim, who was trying very hard to bring American style gay activism as a socioloigcal phenomenon to Germany. I read his Die Armee der Liebenden (Army of Lovers), about gay liberation in the U.S.

In Germany gay aciivism was centered in the universities across the country. In Tübingen we had two factions, the theological activists, who were very conservative, and the left-wing activists, who took a more or less Marxist view of things. Lesbians were involved with the German women’s movement and did not at all interact with gay men. We had consciousness-raising meetings and we discussed taking political actions and holding regional meetings for the gay activist groups come together. We were a small band of maybe a dozen out and closeted gay male students. Germany was a big home to leather and my first experiences with leathermen came from tricking out of the Munich Eagle and a gay Kneipe/resaurant where Munich gay men gathered for meals. Can’t belibe I can’t remember its name, ouch.] It was place that Rainer Fassbinder hung out in, though I never met him in person.

In my early twenties I was very popular. It helped that I was handsome and had a swimmer’s physique from swimming a kilometer a day five days a week. I did not think of myself as being striking, which I realize in retrospect I was. I just know I had no problem, tricking with whoever I set my mind to seduce. I was very popular in the leather scene as well as in Tübingen and London. My favorite bar in the 1970s was the Coleherne in London’s Earl’s Court district. I would wander through the packed bar and narrow my focus on three or four guys I wanted to have sex with that night. And I would inevitably reel in one of those four, usually the first one I approached. Even though I was very nervous and dran a lot to overcome my shyness and nervousness, I got very loose and bold after a few drinks. I could mix and mingle, and I loved it. The Coleherne was my idea of gay heaven. My lover for the night was inevitably very handsome and masculine. I really liked English gay men a lot. They did not have the sexual hang-ups of American gay men. And German gay men were very matter of fact and down to earth when it came to casual sex. I always talked with my partners before and after sex. As a matter of fact, tricking became the rimary way I made close friends in the 1970s, once I got out of Albany and living in the twilight spce between being closeted on campus and out off campus.

The 1970s was a wonderful time to be young and gay. And it was even wilder when I got to the party that was called Castro Street in San Francisco in 1979. I caught the tail end of the pre-AIDS party years. And that’s another story.

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