The Angry Peace

HOMOSEXUAL: Oppression and Liberation, by Dennis Altman. Angus & Robertson £2.50.

I believe I am right in suggesting that this is the first book on homosexuality to be published in this country that is the work of an insider. Our bibliographies have tended to begin with Bryan Mageee and D.J. West who. inevitably, took the view of outsiders not so much looking in (such empathy is beyond them) but rather, subjecting homosexuality and the homosexual to the sort of detached examination that reinforces divisions whereby the homosexual is seen as abnormal. There are other books, essays, papers. But always written from a standpoint that sets the homosexual against the writer’s accepted values which, when not psychiatric, tend to be the product of a male-dominated, heterosexual-emphasised culture.

So the first thing to enjoy (and I do mean enjoy: it strikes me as a very joyful book) is Altman’s tone. His natural acceptance of himself and of all gay people is refreshing. This sense of liberation informs all he has to say: for him the homosexual needs no justification, no excuse and of course, no special pleading – that besetting sin of most British writers, straight and gay, on the subject.

So to say that Altman has written a book “on homosexuality” is inexact. In the course of it he examines theories of causation and related attitudes, but this is a part only of a much larger intention which is to define the new self-awareness of homosexuals and to discuss its implications both for gays themselves and for society as a whole. His own experience has been predominantly in America so it is in that context he writes: but it is clear that the pressures on gay people and the resultant secretive, straight-gay scene there is not so very different from that here. It does seem though, that the gay liberation movements in America are far more together, and far more potent (both internally and externally) than those in this country.

Dennis Altman is 27; he graduated from the University of Tasmania, became a lecturer at New York University and is now a lecturer on American politics at the University of Sydney. “Bring an academic and a movement together and one produces a book”, he comments in the introduction.

Academic disciplines are apparent in every paragraph; not merely in the tremendous range of Altman’s reading (there is a most useful bibliography), but in his ability to extrapolate and bring together information and facts from disparate sources, and in his general cool which results in a rational, firm, but never overstated approach. And the bleaker side of academic writing is missing; the dryness, the dullness, the arrogance, the lack of humour. If nothing else (and its a lot else) this book is always an entertaining, enticing read.

I think this is because a lot of experiential autobiography is present. Altman seems continually to be testing his information against himself and his own experience. This means no dogmatic statements and a touching honesty when he comes up against something he hasn’t quite got himself tv gether on. Were the book an attempt to make a massive, final statement this would be a weakness. As it is, it’s a strength. Dennis Altman doesn’t quite know yet how to relate to transvestites and transsexuals; so instead of blundering along he draws on statements from STAR and Red Butterfly and adds his own tentative ideas. This has the important effect of throwing the issue back at the reader, thus making him work too.

It is not my intention here to placate the lazy by digesting Dennis Altman’s thesis and trying to encapsulate his ideas. For this is a book which must be read by everybody. And I hope it will not be read only by those who have already talked, thought and absorbed a lot on the subject of homosexual liberation. Because to them quite a lot of the book, especially the opening phases, is going to come like old news. Altman’s analysis of oppression and detail of the schizophrenic life-style foisted on gays has been made before. What is new, and good news, is that here it is followed to its ultimate conclusion and stated in full without the aggression of a manifesto.

I was looking for something to quote. I have pencilled some fifty-five passages. Here’s one:

The essence of gay liberation is that it enables us to come out… Those who are touched by the new affirmation discover a new perception of how they have been oppressed by society and social norms, and out of this realisation comes both peace with oneself and anger at the victimisation that we and others have suffered… For the homosexual, the new affirmation involves breaking away from the gay world as it has traditionally existed and transforming the pseudo-community of secrecy and sexual objectification into a genuine community of sister/brotherhood…”

Which comes from the conclusion in which Altman posits the end of the homosexual. In essence I think it sums up the tone, the attitude and the message of this excellent piece of work.

J. Martin Stafford, BA Explains

The news that J. Martin Stafford, BA – member of CHE’s Executive Committee – had urged Lord Longford and the Director of Public Prosecutions to take private action against Gay News, naturally enough caused somewhat of a stir within CHE itself and in the gay community at large.

Mr Stafford felt it necessary, therefore, to give an explanation of his actions. His memorandum was circulated to local groups of CHE and to delegates of CHE’s National Council (which will be reported in Gay News 14).

The item that horrified him was “what purported to be a photograph of Lord Longford in a naked state”. J. Martin Stafford, BA, makes it clear that, though he mentioned his position within CHE in his letter to Lord Longford, he did not suggest that he was acting on CHE’s behalf.

He writes: “I am convinced that the Gay Liberation Front and all bodies and publications of a similar persuasion are a potent menace to the cause which I embrace and a hindrance to the realisation of ends which I – and no doubt most other people in CHE -esteem desirable. For let us be quite clear about this: GLF, by the outlandish appearance of many of its adherents, by the lunatic extravagance of its professed aims, and by the blatant indecency of its publications, makes social acceptance and further law-reform less probable, not more so; since almost everything which it does, says, and is – far from dispelling prejudice and assuaging potential sympathisers confirms all their gravest apprehensions that homosexuals are freakish perverts … etc etc etc”.

He continues: “… there is absolutely nothing in GLF or Gay News with which any person who held a position of responsibility or who had any concern to maintain his own good name and reputation would wish, or could afford, to be identified, however erroneously”.

Still linking GLF and Gay News together, he believes they give an impression of homosexuality as misleading as that offered by Dr Reubens. He urges CHE to “disassociate itself from all jargon-happy idiots and to renounce their theories as mistaken; their recommendations as impracticable.”

He writes: “I therefore took the view, by which I abide, that any lawful means of eliminating this menace was justified, and proceeded to conspire its ruin.”

After a further paragraph of attack on GLF and Gay News during which he suggests that in himself homosexuals will see they have “at least some spokesmen fit to plead their cause” and also that “some homosexuals have the sense to reject the idle pretentions of revolutionary fanaticism”, he concludes by asserting his intention of remaining on the Executive Committee of CHE “until 1975, or at least until it suits me to leave.” And ends: “The role I play can not, alas, be a very constructive one (sic) but perhaps a restraining influence is not altogether without value.”

At CHE’s National Council, delegates having read Mr Stafford’s hysterical memorandum (for those of us with less intelligence than that Mr Stafford claims to possess found the path from a cartoon of Lord Longford to the “idle pretensions of revolutionary fanaticism” a little difficult to follow), proceeded to give the little fellow a severe trouncing. He sat it out with his usual cool and it was only later in the day that he delighted his fans with one of his celebrated stamping performances.

Mr Stafford told the council that Gay News should be suppressed and “all its shallow and immature gestures eliminated” since it confirms all the worst impressions of homosexuals that people already possess.

A delegate from London (Kensington group) pointed out that Mr Stafford’s action was entirely antagonistic to all the law reforms CHE seeks because he represents himself as a spokesman who wishes to impose restrictions. “He has done everybody a grave disservice”, concluded Peter to loud applause.

The chairman of London’s Putney group remarked that for a homosexual to “recommend that heterosexuals should take legal action against homosexuals was utterly abhorrent”.

The chairman of the Brighton group, speaking with controlled anger, said that Mr Stafford’s action was outrageous in itself, but his “arrogant explanation has added fuel to the fire; the excuse that he is speaking only for himself is rubbish”, said John, “until now Martin Stafford has been a joke. But unless he is removed he will become a menace”.

It was a delegate from London (group 1) who rose to associate himself with Martin Stafford. In a peculiarly confused speech he insisted that he “strongly associated himself with Gay News and had even renewed his subscription. Yet when he saw the relevant cartoon “I was shocked, I thought it in gross bad taste”. Clearly the concept that merely being shocked by something is reason to try and get it prosecuted in the most punitive way, still exists.

Finally two resolutions were put before the Council. The first, from the Croydon delegate, said: “This council disassociates itself from the action of Martin Stafford over Gay News and deplores that a member of the Executive Committee should consider such an action”. Three people voted against this.

The second, put by Bernard Greaves of Cambridge said: “This Council welcomes Gay News‘s existence, applauds its editorial independence and thanks it for its contribution to the homophile cause while not necessarily agreeing with everything contained in it”. Again an overwhelming show of agreement with two votes against.

Martin Stafford embodies all the negative, depressive, death-dealing qualities of the acutely self-repressed homosexual. It is most unfortunate that he has acquired a position on the National Executive Committee of CHE. He admits he will not support his colleagues ard states he will always try to act as “a restraining influence.” His efforts at restraint have hitherto only been exercised within CHE and, while acutely disturbing, have had no relevance to the gay community at large. But in this case he has moved outside CHE to attack (in what is potentially the most vicious way) the efforts of another group of people (homosexual and heterosexual, unaligned to any organisation) to bring those much needed elements of contact, communication and information to both gay and straight communities.

Whenever Martin Stafford goes on one of his anti-life rampages, he falls back on the fact that he was elected to the Executive Committee of CHE this year with a majority. “Ten months ago the voting figures confirmed beyond all dispute that my views command considerable support; for after submitting myself to election on a question of confidence I was returned to the EC, not only at the top of the poll, but by a very impressive lead.”

This reads well. However it must be pointed out (as indeed the vice-chairman of CHE, Tony Ryde, did point out at the council) that Martin Stafford won 95 outright votes at the election, less than 10 votes ahead of his nearest rival. Out of a potential electorate of about 2,500 at this time, this is less than considerable, certainly not impressive. These facts, of course, only reflect on the inertia or lack of interest of CHE’s membership at large in electing their representatives. It also means that the other members of the Executive Committee are in the same position. However, it must be remembered that the other members of the EC are aware of this and only act after collective agreement and do not go off on individual rampages claiming a massive, but mythical, support.

Roger Baker

ED: We repeat again and again and again – Gay News is linked in no way whatsoever with any organisation.

Christmas All The Year Round

Christmas is a lonely time for many gays. Yes. But let’s not get too self-indulgent yet awhile. Christmas is a lonely time for lots of other people too. It’s a lonely time for the very old who have outlived, become separated from, or ignored by their families. It’s a lonely time for the divorced, the widowed, for those men and women who just don’t happen to have got married. It’s a lonely, bleak time in institutions. It can be a lonely time in the family circle when the ring of faces is only made bright by the reflected glow of a television show canned before the leaves fell from the trees. Sometimes the cruelty of Christmas seems to outweigh the sweetness of its message.

Cruelty? Because instead of bringing peace on earth and goodwill to men, Christmas merely underscores alienations that during the rest of the year are either submerged or easier to tolerate. Not just between gay and straight, but between young and old, attached and unattached, blood and water. Of course, Christmas is supposed to serve a precisely opposite function and much time is spent at this time of year paying lip-service to this myth from the fatuous rhymes in cards and the banalities of Victorian hymns (mistakenly called carols) to the whole carapace of empty phrases that emanate from Canterbury, Rome and Windsor.

Christmas is a time when barriers are generally reinforced, not melted. We are reminded of the less fortunate, the weak, the sick, the distressed and perhaps some people are stirred enough to buy cards from a charity and thus ameliorate the minor stab of guilt. But compared with the money lavished on unspeakable toys, on aggressive displays of illuminated decorations for the streets, on advertising displays for commonplace cigarettes packed in tinsel, a fiver on cards for multiple sclerosis is tokenism of the worst kind.

Why just at Christmas? Multiple sclerosis exists the year round. Why pancakes (which are nice) on one day only; why bonfires (which are nice) on one day only? We jump like rats to a bell and shake out our required responses when required, then wrap them up and put them away until next time. Christmas builds barriers.

Also it promotes a wholly unreasonable selfishness, rationalised into ‘it only comes once a year’ (hear the bell?) or ‘we’re only doing it for the kiddies, have another gin-and-tonic’. Is there any wonder that half the population dread Christmas when the other half is ruthlessly enclosing itself in an impregnable cocoon of self-indulgence. The rich man stay’s at his table and the poor man is forever at the gate.

Is there any wonder that the suicide rate rises quite sharply during the Christmas period. Psychiatrists who, of course, once they have detected a phenomenon must instantly explain it, sought a reason for this suicide increase. It was suggested that the central figure of Christmas, the Christ-child, is a symbol of unattainable perfection and that when faced with this concept many individuals become acutely aware of their own imperfections, their own failures and are thus brought towards a suicidal state.

It’s my guess that they feel so bloody rejected and alienated, so fed up with seeing lights behind windows, so put-down by the relentless cash-bang of the High Street that oppressions felt during the rest of the year, but handled, rise sharply to the surface and get trapped in the cul-de-sac of the mind.

But the symbolism of Christmas is potent, complex and reaches far into the unconscious. It asserts certain standards, certain patterns of behaviour and certain ways of life, projected as ideal but rarely questioned.

In the west it is impossible to escape the influence of the myths; so impossible that the idea of escape never occurs. Christmas has undoubtedly inspired some of the greatest painting and music the world knows. But whether it is projected through Messiah or through a clumsy message picked out in cotton wool on the shopwindow, the assumptions remain the same. Christmas ecapsulates the systems of society which, of course, utterly reject the homosexual who is left kicking on the edges of the festival trying desperately to find a way in.

The central tableau is a family scene, the prototype, if you like, of the nuclear family, a single consumer unit given its consumer goods in the form of gold and frankincence and myhrr. The concept of the family is central, is firm, is essential. But the Holy Family is a strange one with a father who is not a father, and a mother who remains a virgin. So we have, in one image, one of basic contradictions – an assertion of procreation, of new and hopeful life linked with a complete repression of sexuality and sexual love.

How do gay women relate to the Virgin Mary? Talking around one gathers that many lesbians have a strong need for children, yet reject the essential male interaction. AID is a strong subject.

The imagery goes further with a statement of social division, not unity. Consider the attendants on the scene: the shepherds and the magi. The proletariat and the establishment. They meet in common worship in a stable. But they remain divided, their roles are set and the unity of common worship is a sleight of hand designed to suggest an equality that never exists. Paul sent the converted slave back to his master, still a slave.

This concept is a meaningless gesture that has been chucked around through the centuries. It has been revived in the plays dedicated to Moral Re-armament where industrial disputes are settled by shop stewards and management finding a common faith -which is about as relevant to strikes as everyone patronising the same tailor.

All these things are implicit all the time, but are asserted in strength at this time of the year. As I suggested earlier, it isn’t just gay people who are lonely at Christmas, but those who feel lonely and bereft at Christmas but are not gay, do at least have in-built defenses to sustain themselves against this barrage of conformity. They know they have the potential to take part in this festival of family and capitalism.

The gay person has no such defenses. At this time of year if he or she is at all sensitive then they must see themselves as alone and quite outside the structure everyone else seems to be celebrating. I said earlier that gay people were trying to Find a way in. Such is conditioning. Is it something one wants to find a way into? Even those gays who remorselessly claim that there is no difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals must, at this time, realise, somewhere, that this is too simplistic a view.

For sex (what you do in bed) is repressed out of the Christmas story and the root of homosexual alienation at this time must be sought elsewhere. Sex is irrelevant. The homosexual just doesn’t fit into the way society works and that’s that. And Christmas brings this home with force.

There are two things that gay people can do about this situation. One is already being done. That is – to get together over Christmas. Both GLF and CHE are having open parties and encouraging those gays who are physically alone at this time to get together for the holiday: “Not necessarily on a sexual basis, just brothers and sisters seeking a friendly and warm relationship”, as GLF’s newsletter so neatly expresses it.

The second thing is less easy. And that is to acquire an attitude of mind, a way of thinking in which Christmas and the terrible strictures it implies upon the gay community becomes irrelevant, where the images have no power to hurt and reject. To reach a stage where there is no need to find a way in because it isn’t worth getting in to; where the gay alternative is better and more rewarding. And not just for a week at the end of December, but all the year round.

My Book Of The Year

Food comes slightly after sex and just ahead of the music of Purcell in my list of favourite things. I read cookery books like novels and occasionally cook like a novelist. But I suppose I have always regarded food from a sensuous point of view, certainly not from a social, political or economic standpoint. Until that is, I read this book called Technological Eating, by Magnus Pyke. It was published in February, is slim (107pp) and quite expensive (£2.50). But it is truly mind-bending in that it bends the thought into all sorts of directions, not all intimately connected with food.

Dr Pyke is President of the Institute of Food Science and Technology of the United Kingdom, but before pelting him with slings of rehydrated potatoes and spun-protein steaks consider his thesis. His book is really about the way in which technology affects social behaviour and he believes (and most surely demonstrates) that by discussing oven-ready chickens and fish fingers we can learn more about what technology is doing than by thinking about communication satellites or nuclear power-stations. This is one reason why his book is so good, so readable, his examples and subject-matter are everyday things that we all have intimate experience of.

He is saying, quite simply, that the application of technology to food is breaking down all hitherto accepted social structures; food becomes increasingly distanced from man. The only possible provenance for a fish finger is a factory, so where do dietary laws come in? Technology is a divisive influence

in society and he compares the fragmentation of Western industrial communities with the coherence of the extended family system “in which claim to quite distant cousinship is a valid title to food, shelter and support”.

I recommend this book for its facts – did you know that a large American engineering firm had devised a lettuce harvesting machine that picks up four rows at once. It is so efficient that only 600 machines would be needed to harvest all the lettuces in the world. The engineering firm is reluctant to manufacture it.

I recommend this book for its ability to move thought from big, unmanageable concepts towards simple, everyday experience that has a greater effect.

I recommend this book for its humanity, wit, sense and eventual optimism, for its sharp criticism of our consumer-conscious society fixed on acquisition and money value.

Monday Club Uses Gays

Picture has been edited as the age of the subject is not clear.A pamphlet is currently circulating around London called The Monday Club: a danger to British Democracy. It is an exposure of this ultra-right-wing group and makes for far from delightful reading. It names names, makes accusations and unearths unsavoury details about the private lives of many well-known Monday Club members and supporters. It is highly libellous, which is, presumably, why it lacks the names of author, printer or publisher.

One particularly interesting section is headed: Fairies at the Bottom of Their Garden and begins: “The homosexual aspect is vital if one is to investigate the intrigue that is going on in and around the Monday Club.”

It continues: “A Poetry Society covered some of these activities and involved a man … who has been in trouble with the police for his gay behaviour. … (he) is far better known as one of the leaders of the one-time Revolutionary Communist Party. Today, this man is able to mix amongst Conservatives, including Members of Parliament, because of his gay friends and now Right-wing political associates.

“It is always observed that homosexuals are bad security risks as they are open to blackmail and other forms of pressure. Certainly it would appear that those Right extremists in the Monday Club are seeing that homosexuals are being placed in positions where they can be influenced at a later date.”

The item goes on to name two such men.

STOP PRESS: Breakthrough In Eire

There is a distinct possibility that CHE may soon be able to form a local group in Dublin. This is the result of a visit made there by one CHE member, Allan Crossley, during which he contacted The Irish Times, the Samaritans and an already existing homophile group.

The established group is called The Legion of Mary and is described as “an apostolic organisation aiming to achieve the personal sanctification of all its members”. The group has about 50 contacts, and its leaders (both married men with families) agreed that not all homosexuals who came into contact with them could accept their approach and methods, especially if they did not wish any involvement with the church. The group accepted CHE literature which has been distributed to members.

All Irish newspapers have refused to mention this group and have refused to accept any advertisements from it. The Irish Times did, however, publish an interview with Allan (November 21), a short article which, while stating CHE’s aims quite clearly and correctly, lent its emphasis to the fact that ‘buggery’ and ‘gross indecency between males’ are illegal in Ireland. Which indicates that the full implications of being homosexual are completely unknown – to the writer of the article at least. However there is, at the time of writing, a 90% chance that the same newspaper will agree to carry a CHE advertisement on its back page of personal ads.

Allan was also able to give CHE literature and posters to the Dublin Samaritans, and to put the idea into their heads that a speaker on homosexuality might be invited along.

Batchelor of the Year

All readers of Gay News must, we are convinced, be afflicted with desperate longings to hear all about Alexander Lange who has been selected by Penthouse as Bachelor of the Year. None of us see Penthouse very often, but we found out about him through a write-up (hardly profile, or even interview) by Linda Blandford in The Sunday Times. Mr Lange’s main qualification, apparently, is his ’sensitivity towards women’, so Miss Blandford trotted along, all a-quiver, to find out for herself. The article is revealing, for between his quotes and her comments, we find a portrait of what can only be called an arrogant bully. Under a thin guise of olde worlde courtesy a new standard of male chauvinism, approved of and encouraged by Miss Blandford emerges.

“I couldn’t care less what is fashionable and what is old-fashioned – I find it almost impossible to sleep with more than one girl at a time.”

Presumably Mr Lange doesn’t mean that he can’t make it with two or more different girls in the same night, but that he can’t keep two or more mistresses going at once.

But notice that “almost impossible”. Also, disclaimers of modishness usually indicate a preoccupation with it.

“It’s a question of feelings, of giving myself, of wanting to be fair and honest with any girl I love, even to the point of sacrificing my own desires sometimes.”

A noble sentiment. But again we have a qualification – ‘sometimes.”

“He’s 29, 6′ tall and moves with the sinuous appeal of a man whose clothes only just become him more on than off.”

How does she know? Or maybe it’s a bit of wishful thinking.

“He’s a curious mixture: French on his father’s side, German on his mother’s, Swiss by birth and a product of Yale University and the United States army …”

It’s kinda dangerous for smart lady journalists to let their repressed xenophobia surface. What’s so curious about a mixed parentage? The world is small, people do travel. In describing him as a “product”, Miss Blandford is herself seeing him an object, as part of a consumer survey.

“He drives a white Porsche . . (has a) . . white and oatmeal flat chromed with elegance …”

Sexual desirability assessed by conspicuous consumption. And we couldn’t care less about fashion, remember …

“He keeps lists of everything and files it away in neat rows in his meticulous (flat).”

Somewhat obsessive wouldn’t you say? A touch repressed somewhere perhaps?

“He opens doors for ladies, stands up for them …”

What about us women?

“ . . buys them chocolates and flowers – not the mass-produced corner-stand rosebuds either, but proper long-stemmed roses, with genuine thorns on them.”

That is, he treats ladies as pretty dolls, entices them with extravagance.

“He’s also been known to send one girl friend … a list of rules on how to behave, including ‘Do not arrive unannounced’ ‘Do not telephone more than once a day’ and, inevitably, ‘Do think of me ‘.”

This is the biggest give-away of all. Arrogance, selfishness. Little evidence of a willingness to sacrifice his own desires there.

“He once dropped a girl friend he loved because she slept with someone else – it hurt him too much.”

Hurt his pride presumably. Or perhaps the poor girl had used up her one allowed daily phone call to apologise for putting her longstemmed roses in his filing system and couldn’t explain that someone more sinuous (or possibly more human?) had come her way.

Or maybe he was performing the almost impossible at the time.

MISS BLANDFORD CONCLUDES that it is encouraging to find Penthouse valuing such sensitivity. “Normally the magazine jangles girls on a man’s chatelaine like so many keys of doors he may or may not want to open some night”.

Doesn’t she realise that she herself has just spent seven and three-tenths inches (which reminds me of something we didn’t learn about Mr L) praising a man who wears exactly that chatelaine?

Oh, I almost forgot. “Alexander Lange considers he is unusally nice.”

Parents of Gay Children

19720901-07A group for the parents of homosexual children has been started in London. It is the idea of Rose Robertson, herself a mother and chairman of CHE’s Catford-Lewisham group.

Rose has been concerned about the relationship between parents and their gay children for some time and in the course of her campaigning activities has met several people in this situation.

“At first I put an ad in the local paper”, she says, “and got a number of replies. However, when I invited them to get together I got no response. And moreover, nearly all the letters I received more or less asked me to recommend a cure – you know, send the pills by return.”

A few months ago she was invited to talk about her project on Woman’s Hour and this produced some response from all over the country and she has now been able to call a meeting.

Obviously, in its very earliest stages the group will have to be local (though a mother travelled from Leicester for the first meeting). And the prime emphasis will be on helping those individual parents who turn up to come to terms with the homosexuality of their sons and daughters. “Many of them have no idea what homosexuality is really like,” Rose says, “and have all the usual prejudices.” So education of parents for starters.

But it doesn’t take much thought to realise the truly immense potential of such a group. Adjusted parents lead to adjusted families and, confidence gained, the way is wide open for some valuable political action. “After all, a crowd of parents lobbying parliament for law reform isn’t going to go unnoticed,” is the way Rose puts it.

This may be a little in the future just now, but before that will come a voice in Parent-Teacher Associations and thus pressure from another, and responsible direction for better and fuller sex education in schools.

As the group becomes established and well-known, its presence may well encourage other gay men and women to tell their parents. For if the individual gay person has tremendous problems related to coming out, so does his or her parents. The revelation tends initially to provoke shame and possibly disgust. And if not this, then bewilderment and fear, also a sense of failure as parents. If these feelings can be eradicated, put into perspective, then maybe mothers and fathers can begin to play a pretty impressive role in the cause of homosexual liberation.

Rose would like to hear from the parents of gay people and is already thinking of the reverse situation – the straight children of gay parents. Write to her at 16 Honey Road, Catford, SE 6.

Forelock and Foreskin

Fields of Wonder, by Rod McKuen. W.H. Allen, £1.00
Twelve Years of Christmas, by Rod McKuen, W. H. Allen, 80p.

19720901-10Two slender volumes of lyrics from the man who, according to the blurbs, must be something like the eighth wonder of the world. A thousand popular songs he’s written. Academy Nominations have crossed his path and there’s a string of major classical works too. He’s the world’s best-selling poet, it sez here.

The few times I’ve seen Rod McKuen perform (on television) he turned me off like nobody since Michael Parkinson. He was, it struck me, a case where sincerity was at once too much and not enough. Too much to tolerate – that intense gaze beneath the white-blonde forelock, an arm buried elbow deep in sheepdog, the introspective muttering. Not enough – to explain and excuse an inability to sing: to carry a tune, hit a high note, project.

In one of his Christmas verses he writes:-

There was the year I first heard Brel and cried
because I thought I’d never sing that well

Does he think he sings that well now, I wonder. But this seems to be how McKuen casts himself, as a transatlantic Brel, a chanteur in an essentially European tradition. But Brel has musical guts and dynamism, he looks outwards. McKuen looks inwards, the introspective loner in faded jeans, riding the range of the recording studios and babbling, like Falstaff on his death bed, of green fields.

In these sequences McKuen throws himself on the world like an open sore and records the pain and balm that come his way. He is passive from the opening stanza :-

“. . . I travelled not to Tiburon or Tuscany
but battled back and forth
between the breasts and thighs
of those who fancied for a time
my forelock and my foreskin.”

Always he is the innocent: “Fields of wonder/ are the places God goes walking,/ I found them by mistake and I’ve trespassed.” And he makes his position clear:-

Love I wore
As open as a wound
a mad mistake I know
but love, like Lent,
only comes to those of us
who still believe.

We are not, in all honesty, so far away from the wonderful world of Patience Strong (“A smile is a light in the window of the face that shows that the heart is at home”) and even in pain the quiet, consoling voice preludes sleep. He has added a tentative awareness of sexuality to this simplistic view of life (“I have in common with all men/a lump in swimming trunks”), but it seems a faintly embarrassing itch, lost beneath sententious, didactic clumsiness when the message is rammed home.

Only a few of these collected verses are intended as lyrics for music. But they are often ridden with the kind of imagery that sounds probing when murmured through a microphone but which fails to survive reading: “There were fences that I leapt/and some that I slid under,/even when I knew I’d tear my pants.” Now and then, though, McKuen does come up with the goods as here: “The sawdust made/by two lives rubbed together/is as useless in the cover up/of changing feelings/as the kind spread thinly/on the floors of butcher shops …”

Twelve Years of Christmas is a collection of annual messages to his friends between 1958 and 1969. They are summings up of the past year, very personal and idiosyncratic. Ironically, their very intimacy makes them far more immediate and interesting than the pomposities of the bigger sequences. Here, in such verses as The Jazz Palace and El Monte Rod McKuen does indeed nearly approach the quality of Jacques Brel. The style of these Christmas messages is less effortful, the lines more fluent, the experiences more relevant than in Fields of Wonder.

MORE THAN ONE ALICE IN WONDERLAND

05-197208xx-7

The Professional Homosexual

prof“We have a great and momentous task before us which can only be performed through diligence and mixing with the right people. I do my bit by getting around and speaking to groups. This week, for example, I am talking to some Young Conservatives in Liverpool on Monday, I have a Rotary Club luncheon on Tuesday, dinner with a few selected MPs on Wednesday. Thursday I am down to speak in a debate on pornography in Cambridge and on Friday at the preliminary, sub-agenda, preplanning committee of the NFHO. Meanwhile I have to write eight articles for magazines ranging from the Police Gazette to Forum and work on my own definitive book on the subject. Yes it’s a busy life. I am also involved with the following organisations: The Kensington Womens Information Movement (KWIM), the Camp Activist Volunteers and the Political Action Group (CAV and PAG), also the Homosexual Information Movement and the Homophile Erotic Research Society (HIM and HERS), then there’s the Gay International Go-Go’ Lads Excursion Society (GIGGLES) and the Co-operative Underground News Trust which is well-known. My book of gay recipes will be coming out in the Autumn, but I have no plans to come out myself as no one knows my real name. There’s little time for love life, I agree, but I don’t exactly waste my time on those inter-city trains, you know.”

The Gay Type

gay“My dear, such a divine party last night, absolutely scrumptious drinkies you made, sweetie. What was it? Gin and passion fruit juice? Oh you wicked queen. And how’s that darling Sam you dragged in from the cottage? He did looked dropped on when he came in, those leather boots . . . mmm . . . so brave of you, I do hope I’m so bold when I’m your age, petal. Was he good in bed? Sam I mean?

Oh . . he did? . . . he didn’t. . . did he now? I . . . did you? . . . you did? Oh, full marks lovie … Oh no! how awful . . . still you will take risks won’t you, heavenly? . . . is your mother alright now, then? … oh goodie . . . a game old bird I always thought. Some of us thought we’d toddle along to the Garden tonight for ducky Rudi in Swanners . . . why not slip into something tight and join us . . . do you good after that nasty experience last night. Champers in the Crush Bar? Tempting? Then the Inigo Jones afterwards? Oh just Johnny and Dolly and Tiny and lil’ ’ol me . . . oh no, we can’t stand her with her pinstripe trousers and Turnbull and Asser shirts, so passé and so serious, darling. That’s lovely then, tonight at the Garden . . . oh, no one will notice the black eye if you wear shades.

I know, put a bit of raw steak on it if you can stand any more red meat in a week if you see what I mean . . . byeeeee”

A Simple but Butch, Soul

simple“Well, it’s like this yer see. some Saturday nights I lose me mates at the Elephant and get up West, see? Wander into one of them pubs, buy myself a half a bitter and stand about a bit. Never takes long. One of ’em come up -‘what’ll you, have?’ Always have a whisky. Then we get chatting and its “Why not finish off the evening at my place?” he says. “Why not” I says and a taxi it is, all the way up to Hampstead or Kensington or Notting Hill Gate. Sometimes its Kensington. Quite like that, I don’t have to stay the night ‘cos I can walk home, see. I don’t hold it against them, they can’t help being that way can they? And I don’t hold with violence of any sort, that’s where me and my mates differ, like. Good boy, I am. Go back with them good as gold. Another drink and a Shirley Bassey record. Yeah, she’s alright. A bit skinny for my taste, still you can’t have everything can you? Then we get down to it . . . you know. Well, me, I just lie back and enjoy it, let them do all the work, after all that’s what they like innit? No, I wouldn’t do that . . . no its not that I don’t hold with it, its like I say, each to his own.

But it’s not my thing. We have good times, sometimes I see them again. Kiss? Christ! mate, what do you think I am, a fucking pansy?

The Sanctuary Queen

sanctuary“Well you see, we believe that homosexuals are real people and that love is the most important thing in the world. Actually, we don’t use the word homosexual at all, but prefer to say homophiles which means lovers. You see, we believe that we homophiles (you see?) must prove that we are real human people by doing things for those less fortunate than ourselves. What sort of thing? Well, we sell flowers on street corners and collect rags on a door to door basis. Some of us are rather keen to go round the neighbourhood cleaning cars and doing odd jobs for housewives. You see, we must convince everyone that we are real people and help them in important, real things. No, I couldn’t possibly give you my name, heavens no, sir. It’s so dangerous to do that, I mean people might find out I’m a homophile mightn’t they? And I can’t give you my address, oh no, that would be too difficult, my canary is terribly sensitive. That doesn’t matter you see, what does matter is that we really try and show everyone that homophiles are exactly the same as everyone else. Oh no, my friends don’t know about me. Well, I take my sister out a lot and I have a girl friend too – I think she knows, but it’s never actually spoken of, you understand, I take her out a lot so people don’t start wondering about me. You see – it’s really easy to adjust and live a normal healthy life, if you really try.”

A Responsible Person

responsible“As I see it, there’s no point in going around with placards screaming that one is gay. I mean who’s interested? People have their own problems, don’t they. Anyway. I don’t want to lose my friends. Friends I’ve had for twenty or more years would drop me if they thought I was . . . like I am. There is no difference between homosexual people and straight people at all, so its just a question of working quietly towards proving this. I’m in favour of homosexual marriages, for example, in church if you like. You probably think that’s very radical don’t you? But if people could see homosexual pair bonds setting up home just like they do, don’t you think they’d feel easier? I don’t think homosexuals should get mixed up with women, or people under 21, or transvestites or anyone who might give us a bad image. I’ve no time tor students, after all its not so long to wait before you’re 21 is it? I think demonstrations do more harm than good on the whole. Its a better feeling just to go along to a meeting and chat to a few other blokes, have a beer, smoke a pipe or two and exchange ideas. That’s what it’s all about, really. Good fellowship. If we don’t bother anyone else, no one will bother us will they?”

A Liberationist

liberationist“Society is wrong it’s the capitalist system that bugs us all and all the competitiveness and role-playing we’re forced to do that’s why I think we should all refuse to work and live in communes, let everyone find their own way through it all, our struggle is a class struggle our fight is the same as the fight for women’s rights and black people’s rights and the workers’ rights isn’t it get all that sorted out and everyone will be happy everyone should come out as quickly as possible everyone should make it clear they are gay we’ve got to push it down their throats in their suburban gardens it’s no good stealing their children they wouldn’t care burn their garages that’s what they understand property do away with private property and gay people will be free to fight on no I don’t do a job why should I society has made me what I am so society can jolly well keep me right if I want to wear drag, then I will because it’s what I want to wear and its nothing to do with being butch or bitch or any of that crap so I wear a dress and I paint my nails so what that’s me I would go leafletting on Saturday night with you but its my sister’s coming-out party it’s rather important to her and mummy that I’m there so I shall have to dash off to Moss Bros now for a white tux. Right on!”