[madison]
[submarines]
[people]
[hubble]
[home]
[email]
[prev][up]
[down]
[next] [index]
[search]
[about me]
[my writings]
[loving men]
[lgb links]
Header: Jess Anderson in Madison Wisconsin
spacer72pt
Gay Men in the 1950s
spacer6pt
rule

In the early 70s I was the chair of Madison's Gay Liberation Front. One of our early public demos was to hand out leaflets at the first screening here of the film version of Boys in the Band, to point out to viewers that the images the film presents of gay people were not inclusive, but rather local to a place and time, and furthermore the result of an act of creative imagination, more than a historical document of How Things Were.

Without getting sidetracked into an extensive commentary on this film, my own impression of it, despite the demo I was leading, was that with allowances for locales and personalities, Boys was actually a fairly accurate depiction of a lifestyle (the dreaded word!) that was not uncommon in the 50s.

By this I mean that in urban settings it would be usual, rather than unusual, to run into groups of educated, relatively well-off homosexual men who had formed themselves into continuing social groups, giving parties, making witty conversation, making out with each other, drinking too much, having cheap drama, exchanging vicious gossip, lisping and swishing and generally camping it up for one another's amusement, all combined with large dollops of self-loathing, woman-hating, and utterly banal consumerism disguised as "taste." Above all, they were living a completely duplicitous, closeted double life, being as "straight-acting" as humanly possible except within the subculture.

In the 50s, the word "gay" was not generally known to outsiders as referring to homosexuality, and several other layers of indirection generally protected the goings-on in the closet, glittering or despairing, as the case may be, from the glare of close public scrutiny.

Indeed, in the early days of the Gay Liberation movement 20 years later, the more conservative parts of the lesbian and gay communities were greatly put off by the overt, in-your-face style of the leadership. Of course, that was fairly mild by today's standards.

But debate about these values to one side, college boys at the University of Illinois in the 50s at least knew they weren't the only ones, which is a plight still faced nearly a half-century later by hundreds of thousands of young people all over the country.

There was, whatever its values may have been, a real society within the larger society, and with some luck, one began to move in it with varying degrees of confidence and even success.

As for the closet itself, the frequently contentious and bitterly ironic notion of "straight-acting," a wide spectrum of conflicted social and political consciousnesses, all that is still very much with us. I think that's much too bad.

End of Page


rule
[madison]
[submarines]
[people]
[hubble]
[home]
[email]
[prev][up]
[down]
[next] [index]
[search]
[about me]
[my writings]
[loving men]
[lgb links]