Charley Shively: Intuitive Genius

From William A. Percy
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For three decades, Charley Shively has been my colleague and close friend at the University of Massachusetts Boston. I am noting this now because Charley himself is ill, and his disorganized and scattered papers may be lost. I have become convinced of the accuracy of two of his theories and now have begun to fear that they may not see the light of day. I'm taking this opportunity to praise his life and report that Charley has assembled and analyzed, but not yet published, oral and written evidence that Ho Chi Minh was gay, and that Robespierre and St. Just were in love with each other. When we were informed in 1982 that the UMB History Department had to take four of the thirty history profs from Boston State College, which was being abolished as redundant, I alone took the initiative of visiting there to look over their faculty. At that time I had never even heard of Charley. I soon discovered that he was unquestionably by far the best of the lot and also Mr. Gay/Lib of all New England. I compiled a list of the best eight of them to aid the committee that our department appointed to select the ones to transfer to UMB. They chose four from my list, but they flatly rejected Charley, saying that he "had abandoned history for gay lib." Charley managed however to squeak into the Law and Justice Department and when UMB abolished that small, weak department, he migrated to American Studies. Both those departments as well as our college and university, denied him appointments to committees, adequate merit raises, and any significant say about anything.

Born in 1937 to a very poor family in Ohio, none of whom had ever gone to college, Charley earned three degrees from Harvard, AB magna cum laude, AM and PhD, and an MA from Wisconsin -- all in history. He inspired me to begin publishing in gay history. When no one else from that great radical newspaper, Gay Community News, would accept the invitation to attend the conference in Washington D.C. for the "Others" at the Holocaust Museum, Charley got me a press card and persuaded me to cover it for them. In 1985, my article about the conference appeared as a centerfold in the Gay Community News.

Charley's brilliance showed as he won three Fulbrights, a total greater than those given to the rest of our history department combined. During his third one, while in Hanoi, he heard stories that Ho Chi Minh was gay. When in Paris, Charley found out that Robespierre, "the Incorruptible," loved the young beautiful Saint-Just. In '93 their former colleagues on the Committee of Public Safety condemned them both to death. The two were decapitated one after the other, touchingly united in death as in life. A drawing of the time that Charley found shows the two bloody severed heads lying on the ground at the foot guillotine next to each other.

Charley shone even more in editing and publishing. He himself edited the journal Fag Rag (described by the Neanderthal Senator Jesse Helms as "loathsome"), and published books under its logo. He was vice president of what many have called the most important gay press, Winston Leyland's Gay Sunshine, which published many important books. In The Best of Gay Sunshine, Winston collected two massive volumes from the newspaper of that name, one of which includes Charley's outing of George Washington and the in the other his outing of Abe Lincoln.

Shively helped found NAMBLA, contributed to the NAMBLA Bulletin and wrote and solicited articles and reprints for the Gay Community News. Many believe GCN to have been the most intellectually significant of all gay periodicals. An inspired demonstrator and organizer, he was involved in founding the Fenway Community Health Center, and helped found the Gay and Lesbian Caucus of the American Historical Association for which he induced me to serve as chair for two years. At its annual conference in New York City, I scheduled a session where Charley outted Washington and Lincoln and I, Buchanan and Garfield with my colleague Michael Chesson as chair. In that audience, C.A. Tripp got the idea to write the Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. Garfield’s great great nephew rose to announce that when his great aunt would not talk to him about the president whom she knew well, he asked his mother why not and she replied that auntie disapproved of the president because he was "that way." Moreover, two others from Buchanan’s hometown stood up to state many in their home town knew that he was also that way too.

In his massive sympathetic synthesis of gay American history, forthcoming from Farrar Strauss Giroux, Larry Kramer has recognized the key role that Charley has played in American Studies -- publishing the letters of Walt Whitman's boyfriends to refute persistent claims that the good gray poet was straight. When Larry came to Boston to meet and applaud Charley, he stayed at my house.

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