Reviews:On Before Stonewall

From William A. Percy
Revision as of 16:00, 1 August 2008 by Elvan (Talk | contribs)
Jump to: navigation, search

As Vern Bullough wrote in the preface, I helped get the editorship of this volume transferred to him from the former editor, Wayne Dynes, who was unable to gather together enough contributors. However, there is one mistake in Bullough’s preface that I would like to correct: He wrote that I had taken over one-of-the-two-articles-that-I-contributed from someone who had failed to finish theirs, which is incorrect. Dynes, not I, was the person who stepped in and finished the article on W. Dorr Legg, an article begun by Legg’s lawyer, who died before completing it. For my part, I also solicited two articles from John Lauritsen and one from Charley Shively. The person who contributed the largest number of articles was, in fact, Stephen O. Murray, to whom Dynes had originally proposed transferring the editorship of the volume, a role that Murray declined because of his preoccupation with other matters.

What makes this volume especially important is that each contributor personally knew the subject about whom he or she wrote—except, of course, in the case of Lauritsen’s article on E. I. Prime-Stevenson, a.k.a. Xavier Mayne (an early activist whose book "Intersexes" I recently made available on my website).

Although this volume covers the major activists and scholars from “before Stonewall,” one group that was not included but very well would have found a place was a group of much earlier poets and artists who have been appropriately dubbed, the “Uranians.” The authorities on this group (which flourished between 1870 and 1930) are Timothy d’Arch Smith, Donald Madder, and Michael Matthew Kaylor. Their scholarship on the Uranians could be consulted as a supplement to this volume. The Uranians were, I have come to believe, inspired, in turn, by the English Romantics—particularly Byron and Shelley (about whom, in this regard, Lauritsen is the leading authority). The Romantics, of course, were partly inspired by the Cavalier poets, who were inspired by Renaissance writers such as Michelangelo and Shakespeare, who were inspired, by Greco-Roman writers. This highlights a continuum that should be further investigated to grasp more fully the major activists and scholars from “before Stonewall.”

Memoirs of Before Stonewall

Vern’s introduction credited me with suggesting that he replace Wayne Dynes, after Dynes resigned, as the editor of Before Stonewall. I’m happy that John De Cecco, the editor at Haworth, accepted my suggestion. John, who edits the Journal of Homosexuality and a number of other Haworth journals and series, is beyond question the most important gay editor since Magnus Hirshfeld. He has made the Journal the place of record for gay studies and built up a great center for study about sex at San Francisco State. Vern Bullough, with over fifty books to his credit may well rank as the leading living historian of sex. Both of those scholars have braved the slings and arrows of the religious right, the child abuse industry, the homophobic piety of Christianity, and others suffering from sexual panic. They did a splendid job on this much needed work, which contradicts the present-minded, now the vast majority in the gay rights movement, who maintain that nothing significant happened before Stonewall.

In his preface, however, Vern writes that I had revised and finished the chapter on my close friend Jim Kepner. That’s a mistake. I wrote it entirely, but gave half credit to my assistant Lewis Gannett, because the chapter for which he was to have received half-credit – the one on C.A. Tripp – was excluded from the volume. It was later published in the Journal of Homosexuality as a memorial to Tripp, just after his death. Meanwhile, I had sent Gannett to Tripp to help him finish The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, and after Tripp’s death, Lewis added an appendix to our chapter to make it an appropriate, up-to-date obituary. I believe that Lewis should have written that at the end of Kinsey’s life, when he was suffering so much, that Tripp, who had the best skill that I have ever seen in befriending and comforting people, became his closest friend, but Lewis got to know Tripp better than I did, and he didn’t agree with me, and Lewis does not yield easily. He even argued a lot with Tripp in helping him complete and improve the Lincoln book.

It was in fact Wayne Dynes himself who took over and finished the chapter on Dorr Legg, which had originally been assigned to Dorr’s lawyer, who died of AIDS before finishing it. I don’t know how much, if any, of Wayne’s article relied on the work that the lawyer had done.

Anyway, be that as it may, I believe that someone should do a sequel – a book that would devote chapters to the most significant gay scholars and activists in the next generation, that is, to those who took the lead after 1969, until the time when AIDS became significant enough to end gay liberation and sexual laissez-faire, which had dominated our movement after Stonewall. The terminal date of such a book should be during the early 1980’s – I’m not sure which year. What was first dubbed GRID – Gay Related Immunity Deficiency – in 1979 or 80, became Kaposi syndrome before it became AIDS.

Whatever year we take for the end of the second phase, perhaps 1982, we might see a third era of our movement from there to about 1998, when a really effective, non-lethal cocktail was developed. I would appreciate suggestions as to whose names should be selected from such a vastly expanded group of stars in the gay lib phase compared to the pre-Stonewall period. Such a work, even if twice as long as Before Stonewall would require a more rigorous editor and would inevitably provoke violent disagreements about who should or should not be included, as the list of the forty heroes did at the recent celebration in Philadelphia of the 40th anniversary of the first gay demonstration did. The new Hall of Fame for Gay Journalists will have similar problems. Please offer suggestions, because I believe that John De Cecco, among others, might be interested in publishing such a work.

- Posted 10-26-05

Personal tools