Ball And Chain

Recently, I spent a few days in London after a year’s absence. I am no newcomer to the London gay scene, after having spent seven years as an integral part of it. Yet, over the past year, the totally different way of life, lived in an almost totally different kind of environment, has seeped into me sufficiently for me to be able to look somewhat objectively at the way my gay friends in London live, whilst knowing the scene intimately from the inside.

The London gay scene can be an exciting, colourful world full of people who are either beautiful or interesting; you occasionally meet people who are both. I can remember such people, but fortunately, I only knew them for a few weeks. Being the pessimist I am, I do not intend to extol the wonders of London when there are so many things about it which are bad and prod one’s social conscience to comment upon them.

What I see in the gay scene, (that which I saw in myself over a year ago but fail to see in the majority of non-gay society) is the incessant preoccupation with sex and the constant orientation around gay being, or, we might alternatively say, being gay. It seems that there is a type of gay person whose entire existence revolves around their being gay, and that nothing matters or holds any interest for them other than the possibility of what they might get into bed with next. To me, this myopia is alarming, but to them, I guess, my university intellect is equally horrifying in its universalism and exposure to the overwhelming fullness of the world. Being gay in a gay world, or what sociologists innocently call subculture, is a comfortable security when the rest of society is painfully anti-gay. But when the entire extent of one’s life is limited to cruising and its obsessed mentality, then I think one begins to question the value of comfort and security. I should be able to understand the life of being gay, after all, I was leading it a year ago.

My transcendence into a new way of life was both planned and accidental. Now things are different, I have changed, and I look upon my old experiences almost as if I hadn’t had them. Why? Well, for one thing I have become involved in Gay Liberation since I moved out of London. However, although I have had a lot to do with GLF here, my views differ from those of the protagonists in London. The following, I hope, will illustrate this.

When I sent an article to the editors of Come Together for the special International Gay week edition, they published it but prefaced it with a pictorial comment – the article was called ‘Coming Out for Straight Gays’, and it attempted to analyse the problem of homosexuals sympathetic to the call for liberation, but confronted with some degree of interest in ‘straight’ society. I argued that liberation did not necessarily mean copying the radical feminists and wearing glittering clothes and eye-shadow, since few women do this anyway. Neither did it mean pinning oneself to a label. I reiterated the position I adopted at the GLF Birmingham conference, that with many gays like myself, Gay Lib was just one facet of something bigger and broader and that gay people shouldn’t enclose themselves in the specifically gay struggle for liberation, but should see the person as being part of a non-gay environment trying desperately to integrate with it without being swallowed up in it. Pandemonium ensued; at least from the Rad Fems and others whose brotherly love gave way to the most horrid bitterness of all. I rather suspect that the editors who prefaced my article with a picture of a ball and chain manacled to a boot were in the same frame of mind as those who castigated me at Birmingham. The point of contention was, in the last analysis, this: those that demand a change in one’s whole life in order to achieve liberation in their gay being are, I conject, those who are completely immersed in being gay and lead a totally gay existence. Those, like me who have a part to play in the non-gay world and are only gay in bed, can’t be doing with a total change in their whole lives.

Well, are my views such that they make me manacled to a ball and chain? Can I achieve liberation by attempting to integrate with straight society even though I don’t agree with it? My policy is ‘yes, integrate to liberate’. What we need to change is not only ourselves, and that on the inside, not on the eye-makeup side, but society as well. Read your manifestos you GLF people, and on page 7 it mentions a ‘revolutionary change in our whole society’. That includes us, but the change must be in our heads, deep inside our personalities in fact. The drag-fanatics have not quite found out what that means yet. If it is question time, then let’s also ask whether the liberationists are not also manacled to their own ball and chains, simply because they never concern themselves with the outside world and all its other oppressions.

Like the scene people, the professional liberationists are, to my perspective, over-involved in being gay. This distorts their understanding of how society oppresses them and what they have to do to liberate themselves from its oppression.Their rejection of the straight world (without being part of it) makes them suspicious and critical of me when I purport to move between gay and straight ways of life with an easy conscience. I can appreciate that gay being means security, as much as I understand that one does not want to be integrated with a sick society, one that gives males privilege and dominance over women, children and gays; but I do not drop-out of the straight world altogether, simply because you have got to fight it from within – and because one does not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

There are some good points about straight society but the liberationists seem to deny this.

In my Come Together article, I admitted to having a vested interest in the world which oppresses me – that was simply a paradoxical way of saying that so long as I remain straight in the street and gay in bed I can be left alone to lead a quiet comfortable life and suffer the oppression of being taunted behind my back and denied any equality with other people. That is precisely where the straight-gays and the closet-queens stand; it is the difficult, disheartening position of those who want to be or must be involved in straight society, and who don’t go to gay pubs and don’t cruise physically or mentally. So, when liberation and coming out are suggested one gets into a very difficult position. What are we to liberate ourselves from and into? If it’s the answer given by the present generation of London GLF, then I for one am quite content to stay oppressed, London libers have been trying for two years or more to find out what democracy is all about and they still have not succeeded; they have dismissed bureaucracy because it is part of the straight world and have blocked their ability to organise as a result. Hence there has been little liberation in London, although there has been a lot of jiggery-pokery with social values, and a lot of political gymnastics which have done more harm than good.

No, I don’t feel that I am manacled to a ball and chain; quite the opposite. It is not so much the ball and chain being on the other foot as the foot which has it being on the other leg, ie my critics. The only way to get at straight society is to compromise with it, and accept what you know to be good and reject what you know to be bad. There is, after all, a lot about being gay which is bad; and being gay at the expense of everything else is just such a thing.

T. F. Much

19720914-04The London office of the Gay Liberation Front is refusing to supply Gay News with information about their activites – dances, discos, gay days etc., on the grounds that ‘most of the people who work in the (Gay Lib) office couldn’t give a shit about your little paper.’

One begins to wonder whether or not they care about the gay people who might like to meet one another at their dances or political functions. In future, unless someone in the GLF office informs us of what is going on, we won’t be able to tell you about it. There are too few of us with too much to do to waste time chasing GLF’s ego-trippers.

Many thanks to the provincial GLF groups for keeping us well up to date with all info concerning their activities.

GAY IS ANGRY

02-197206XX 4Wednesday, June 28th, 1972

Dear Gay News,

Yesterday, in London’s Oxford Street, I saw a mob of grotesque, raddled and over-painted nellies carrying placards and banners proclaiming “GAY IS ANGRY”. As they ambled towards Marble Arch whooping, jeering, calling out slogans and four-letter words etc., I couldn’t help bur feel utterly disgusted by their behaviour.

What, I wonder, do such people hope to achieve? Where they in any way sensible they would realise that flaunting themselves through the streets of the Capital will only shower further disgrace on all gays and incite more and more youths to go “queer bashing”.

If the object of “Gay News” is to campaign on behalf of exhibitionists such as these then your battle is completely lost, and you should toss in the towel right away. No self-respecting gay would want to concern himself with these drop-outs. They are a menace, not only to gays, but to the whole of man/womankind.

Yours faithfully
Simon L. Manson.

This letter is a comment on a G.L.F./Radical Feminist action, presumably part of Gay Pride Week. Gay News welcomes other inter pretations of this event.

Editorial

01-197205XX 1Well, here it is, the first issue of Gay News. It is late and we are sorry about that, but we offer the first excuse and apology in the life of Gay News, and sincerely hope it won’t be the first of a long series. During the coming out of the paper almost everything that could go wrong did. To the people who were brave enough to risk their hard-earned cash an a pre-publication subscription, our very heartfelt thanks. Without you it could never have happened, without your help and support there wouldn’t have been a paper at all. For that we are very grateful, for the chance to bring out Gay News. Not just for ourselves, those of us at present working on the paper, but also for the many friends and helpers who have contributed (and put up with us), and the people who were, for a time, part of the genesis of what you are holding in your hand.

Gay News, as you will doubtless tire of hearing and reading after the first few issues, is not our paper, but yours; it belongs to the whole of the gay community. It’s for gay women as well as gay men. for transexuals and transvestites, for anyone with a sexual label but who we like to call “gays of all sexes”. The first issue alone cannot reach as far as it should into the gay community – to do that it needs your help – but in time we hope it will. Those of us involved in the paper, whether we’re still around or no longer into it, have always held to one unifying idea; that it isn’t and never will be enough just to produce a paper for gay people, we could only begin something, in this case the getting together of a newspaper, which would in the end belong to all gays.

In fact, it has often worried us that our action in bringing out Gay News could and possibly would be interpreted as doing something because we thought other people needed it. That’s not it. We feel that, despite legal reform and a certain relaxation in people’s attitudes to sexuality, that nothing much has really changed. It is clear that many gay people are still extremely isolated, many still live restricted lives. We feel that a medium which could help us all to know what we were all doing, which could put us in contact, and be open evidence of our existence and our rights for the rest of the people to see, could help start the beginning of the end of the present situation. And that goes for all of you who buy the paper as well as we who get it together. Maybe that sounds like another way of saying “we think you need it”, but surely it is only a recognition of how people and institutions through lack of tolerance and understanding, still make it difficult for most gay people to openly be themselves, to live their lives without fear of abuse, prejudice, and worse.

After all, gay people are the same as anyone else; whether you are part of the majority or one of the minorities, you are still people, wanting and needing to share news and information about what everyone else is doing, about what is going on among the others who have taken up a similar life-style. And for us especially, there is still a need to dispel and counteract much ignorance and misinformation. So far we seem to have accepted society’s definition of us as something that’s not very nice, to be seen perhaps but not heard. Isn’t that a little crazy? We are all people with our lives, our hopes, our fears and expectations for what life has in store for us. The beautiful, loving times, the not so joyous moments – this is what we are, and more – and isn’t that simply people? And to be isolated from what goes on in the world around us is not only wrong, it shows up some dangerous cracks in the society we live in.

So a few of us got together just before Christmas 1971, having come to the conclusion that a first step to rectifying this situation would be the creation of a newspaper, to provide news and entertainment, and a forum for all gays. By entertainment, we mean things that can be laughed at and enjoyed – we hope that Gay News will never be so completely serious that no-one could smile, laugh, or maybe happily cringe at parts of it. News is not only the bad things that can happen to us all, but knowing about what others are doing, sharing and achieving. Information is knowing where and when this is going on, so that if you have a mind to you could share in it. Why should’nt gay people know what each other are doing in whatever place it is, wherever you happen to live? But you can’t share in something you don’t know about.

By March, Gay News had an office, and from then on most of the collective business was carried on from there (not difficult on one side is a porn shop, on the other a pub, which seems to be a peculiarity of small newspaper offices in London). The main job then and through April was to let as many people as possible know of our intentions and to start to raise the capital to put the paper on a more definite basis. We wrote to many well-known and monied gays, asking for help and support, but unfortunately the response was rather small. But the subscriptions rolled in, and with the generous help of a few individuals the paper began to take shape.

The collective had now grown to about 15 men and women, some from Gay Liberation Front, some from Campaign for Homosexual Equality, a few worked very hard for Scottish Minorities Group, some were just gay individuals (and some not-so-gay) who felt that Gay News could be the start of something important.

Money has always been a problem, but by April other and possibly more important obstacles had appeared. Some of those involved began to have doubts, about the amount of work involved, about the compromises they would have to make with their own political and alternative ideals. Some of us became bored with this destructive soul-searching and lack of action on practicalities. Some of us despaired at the way in which we seemed so small and isolated a group to attempt the task of pulling together a newspaper, and about the lack of response and general wariness with which the whole venture was being treated, except for the adventurous prepared to risk a subscription and our few but generous contributors. There were a few heated rows, many tears, and a general air of disappointment and frustration. It seemed as though we wouldn’t be able to pull it off after all. So we suspended operations for a while until people made up their minds as to whether they or the paper would go on. In the end we did continue with a smaller collective, and you an holding the result.

We talk, and always will be doing, about the Gay News Collective. By collective, we mean the people who are presently engaged in getting the paper together. There is no editor, art director, sales manager or whatever, we are all equally responsible for everything, and by the same token, no one person is in a position of greater authority than any other. We feel this to be important; if this is to be a paper for all gays, then

Of course, the rows continue, but the situation is far healthier. We had been deceiving ourselves about the amount of work involved, we didn’t know how difficult it all was, but now we must just get on with it to the best of our collective abilities. Despite all that, the paper has become great fun, and looks like being more so in future issues. We can but hope.

it is impossible to lay down a given direction for the paper, and a collective arrangement without positions of authority reflects the flexibility we need and will hopefully have. No one person has any more say than anyone else, whether they are writing, designing, pasting down photographs or whatever. And this collective is completely open-ended; anyone interested enough to want to help produce and continue Gay News is welcome, no matter what their sex, politics, or any other quirks of personality. You’re welcome anyway, even if you want to drop by for a chat and a nose around the office but beware, it isn’t large enough for coach parties.

Gay News is based in London. There isn’t really any element of choice or design about this – London happens to be where most of us live and when we started getting it together. So in spite of the fact that we feel it’s wrong for so many things to be based in London, this is where the paper is produced, printed, and distributed from. But we hope the paper will never become just a London paper, covering only what the capital city is up to. People actively involved with the paper are spread over most of the country, admittedly fairly thinly at the moment, but with your help that will soon change (hint! hint!). Most active centres as far as work on the paper is concerned are Manchester, Edinburgh, and London, with possible developments in Eire and some of the county towns. With your help, we will print more information and news from more areas of the country, and with greater involvement from the homosexual community, Gay News could, can, and will become much more than it is now. This is only when we begin.

However, to return to the saga. May was the most hectic period in the paper’s short life. Printers had to be found, design finally decided upon, all the articles and information that had come to us had to be sorted, and the shape and content of the first few issues planned. We have also had to arrange our own distribution, as our dear friends W. H. Smith and Sons weren’t over anxious to touch us, and distributors like Moore-Harness could not be used because of the cost, but with the help of a friendly bookshop in Brighton we have tied to spread the paper over as much of the country as possible. In the very near future we hope it’ll be easier to get the paper from your local bookshop or in the gay pubs and clubs in your town. And if you have any ideas about a bookshop round your way that might sell us and doesn’t, you have only to drop us a line and we’ll write to him or her.

So far that gives you several things to think about – the news and information that you can send us to print, the letters and comments you have to write so that we know what you think, the bookshop round the comer that might be one more outlet  – and that is what we mean when we say it’s your paper. None of there things we can do for you – we an asking you to do them for us. for yourselves, for your paper. Gay News will not have any single viewpoint, nor will it be aligned to any gay movement. It is open to all to use it as a medium of news and expression. We will try, for our part, to be honest and objective about what goes into the paper, and in what we put there ourselves.

Thank you very much for your patience, thank you very much for buying the copy you are reading. From now on it’s all yours. The paper belongs to everyone.