Featuring #1: Gay Maoist

Queer Featuring


A chapter from “Smash the Church, Smash the State! The Early Years of Gay Liberation, edited by Tommi Avicolli Mecca, City Lights Books 2009

As a not-yet 20-year-old, I was in many of the right places at a zenith time of interest. I escaped from Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley– the original “Valley” that is, home of our nation’s first mall made famous by Frank Zappa’s kid Moon Unit who was ridiculing her straight teen peers in the lyrics to “Valley Girl.” No gagging-me-with-a-spoon was required to encourage this dorky proto-hippie to move North. I was tired of being harassed by jocks for being a “peace creep” against the war in Vietnam– and chased in the Grant High School parking lot. I did sort of stand out among the hot rods and ’60s muscle cars in a strange set of wheels bought at a surplus auction for a bid of $60. It was an orange Cushman Truckster three-wheeler sporting a suicide stick shift. (Hey, I got nodded respect when passing Hell’s Angels!) My bright orange short sported my own homemade day-glo bumper sticker reading, “Zap Them With Your Love Freak Beam Vector”. You can bet I was ready to finally escape those suburbs by hitchhiking to Berkeley/San Francisco for good the day after I managed to graduate from high school.

The San Francisco Bay Area had been drawing my friends and me northward all through our high school hell years, via news of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley, of the Freedom Riders recruited to The South, and now rumors of a new haven forming in a neighborhood called the Haight. We were the two or three weirdos in each high school in the greater L.A. Area, finding both ourselves and each other in a Unitarian Church youth group with the acronym LRY: Liberal Religious Youth. We met monthly for antinuclear rallies, light substance use and the usual adolescent bisexual intrigues at weekend-long parties held at whoever’s parents would let us (or were out of town). But the Bay Area still beckoned. That was our Mecca.

I was not yet gay, you understand, just definitely not straight, in the unhip square sense of the term. Of four sexual experiences during my high-school years, three merely happened to be with guys, and all were more or less connected to some kind of political involvement.

My first time was on the floor-to-floor carpet of his parents’ penthouse apartment on Wilshire Boulevard near Paciific Palisades, a city that was once home to Thomas and Katia Mann, Ronald Reagan, and both Charles Chaplin and Laughton. There, along with several kids of actor Sterling Hayden’s, my friend and I organized a walk-out of Pacific Palisades High School, after the administration passed a dress code outlawing our long hair. Like many first sexual experiences it was not very good, not to mention the rug-burn; but it did pretty much cure me of entitled penthouse types after him. This was the second of four high schools I was asked to leave. The only sad part was leaving the garage (with baby grand piano) that I had been lovingly leant by one of my junior=high teachers in the Valley, the wonderfully understanding Phoebe Stone (descendant of Supreme Court Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone) Liebig Whitehead.

Gardener, Renaissance madrigal soprano, USC gerontology professor, but before all that, my Jr. High School teacher who offered her converted garage to help me out of the Valley, and stayed a friend for 55 years, never missing a birthday card or holiday. photo from 2015

The second adventure turned out to be with a different teacher from my ex-junior high school – and not one of my teachers– who took me back to his tres gay apartment where Pacific Palisades hits the Will Rogers State Beach. I met him while we were circle-dancing on the grass long after dark at the upside-onion-shaped Valley Unitarian Church–while inside strange lights kept flashing and even weirder individuals cavorted, and experimental electronic music played. One guy on top of a stepladder speed-rapped nonstop. That, it turned out, was “On The Road” Neal Cassady and these were Merry Pranksters, maybe minus Ken Kesey as he was already hiding from the law. Now you can read about the LSD happening in Tom Wolfe’s book “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”. But back in 1965, who knew? 

My third experience was with a Black (though the term used back then was still Negro) activist in his late teens, when the idea of “Black Power” had just been proclaimed. After I attended several San Fernando Valley branch meetings of John Lewis’s and now Stokely Carmichael’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC decided that white folks should no longer be members. But I could still find my way to their wild mixed parties, which is where Jimmie and I did it, in a loft.

It should be clarified that sex and sexual orientation back then were still something you had or did, and not something you were. I doubt there were fewer instances of homosexual activity before the advent of Gay Liberation, and possibly there were more. But the only “out” queers were the few obvious bull-dykes or drag queens. The hidden homos had far more sex, and it was often with straight folks. Of course, it all had to be very hush-hush.

My role models and roommates in a first dingy apartment on SF’s Julian Street were two politically engaged girls who’d attended Grant High School a few years before me. I had first met Barbara Collier in the Valley while she was working in one of my favorite places, Van Nuys Used Books; she was singing and strumming one of Joan Baez’ aching Elizabethan ballads at the cash register, her hair appropriately falling over her face. “Excuse me,” interrupted this brash 9th-grader, “but I think this book was mis-shelved. Shouldn’t it be in Humor?” It was rightwing gadfly Phylis Schlafly’s “You Can Trust a Communist…To Be a Communist.” We became fast friends from then on and she would suggest all the most important books for me to read: “Siddhartha” by Hesse; “The Little Prince”; Alan Watts’ “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones”; and the Tolkien trilogy, of course. Val, the other roommate in our third-floor SF tenement, now worked in the stand-alone box office booth of the Victoria Theater, at that point the last burlesque follies in San Francisco. Only years later did I discover that they had been lesbian lovers for decades, starting when they mimeographed anti-war leaflets in high school.

SF’s Victoria Theater still looks a lot like it did when built in 1908. www.todaytix.com

No longer merely an intellectual kid, by 1967 ] had officially become a hippie, the diminutive form of the beatnik hipster, a term credited to SF Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. I wore bell bottom jeans over East Indian toe sandals and still featured chambray workshirts from the folkie era, but now with beads. We were against Nixon and the War in Vietnam. We’d never heard the mediaterm “Flower Power”.

My first year in San Francisco included the “Gathering of the Tribes,” a Human Be-In. It filled an entire meadow in Golden Gate Park with more freaks that anyone had ever seen together. Everyone joyous, stoned and spiritual. But was it ever gay? Here’s the thing. To us, hippie meant pro-sex, along with pro-psychedelics and pro-Freedom, for Black people, for women, for kids. Before Gay Lib erupted in 1969 there was no call to proclaim yourself in public. Nevertheless, Lenore Kandel was there reading the poem that had just caused her obscenity bust, “To Fuck With Love.” The bearded and overtly erotic poet Allen Ginsberg (“The world is holy! The soul is holy! …The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!”) was also there. Timothy Leary was present, chanting his usual “Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out” mantra, as was his partner in LSD research, Dr. Richard Alpert, soon to re-name himself Ram Dass and only much later to “Come Out”. He said talking about being homosexual might have distracted from his spiritual message.  Onstage to Ginsberg’s right is the great eco-poet Gary Snyder; he’s the one not surrounded by teenagers.

The Grateful Dead were there, and perhaps a quarter of their fans were either homo- or bi-sexual. Or at least, like all hippies, they embraced the ethos of “Do Your Own Thing”, as in “That’s cool for you” or in shorthand, “Whatever’s right.” Berkeley politico hippies like Country Joe and the Fish may have chanted “Out Now!” during demos at the draft board in Oakland, but the universal slogan against our involvement in Vietnam was “Make Love, Not War.” We favored no rules and had few judgements as to what kind of love that was.

The first “pad” I ever crashed in was clearly a dope house. I didn’t know who paid the rent, there were three floors connected not only by stairs but also by rope ladders that dropped through holes cut in the floor. And in the attic was a double bed, several chairs and a table, also suspended by ropes. A faucet was left flowing in each bathrooms– this was an early warning system, as the Narcs were known to turn off the water before a bust. Weed or other illicits could get one last flush if the tap was found not running. I was awoken on my second night there by someone saying, “Get up, 698 is on fire” as dozens of us slowly wandered out, some taking favorite psychedelic-painted doors with them. I heard back then that four dope houses in the Haight and Western Addition burned that night.

I made my way to Barbara and Val’s, who were now practicing zazen and living across from the SF Zen Center on Bush Street, a wooden building noticeable for its “bangs,” a line of grass growing down from its front eave. I visited the zendo and heard an amazing monk share his teaching about the difficulty of quieting the “monkey mind,” It was Suzuki Roshi, the founder of Soto Zen in America.

Through Barbara I got a job at minimum wage (it was under $2 then) washing dishes at a cafeteria in the Commons of San Francisco State College. Its original campus had been in the Lower Haight, which is how the Haight-Ashbury attracted artists and activists and became hippie central. But love in the Haight was even now being overtaken by crank– speed or amphetamine (crystal meth was a “designer” innovation yet to come). By the time the national media announced Haight-Ashbury’s Summer of Love, in the Haight we’d already held the Diggers’ mock funeral procession to mourn the “death of hippie” at the hands of media hype. And people had already started moving to the country.

Death of Hippie procession in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park in 1967. And were the pallbearers chosen for their looks?

Now living at Dolores Street near Market with two hep but hetero guys, friends from LRY, I got together with my first real girlfriend, someone I had admired for a number in years in high school. She arrived to find the reason her boyfriend had stopped writing. It turns out he had taken up with a wild LRY girl who had been crashing with me. Of course, his now -ex and I consoled each other. Don’t ask, it’s complicated at that age. Just let me admit that in all this mixed foursome the switch was a heater one., A smilar thing had happened with my very first female bedmate Debbie Winston, when a partner-in-bed switch landed me with her gal pal, instead of the boyfriend, who was 17 and had lips like the young Mick Jagger. I knew I wasn’t straight but I was glad to be with some amazing women, and also be seen as “normal” for a change. But I do remember that Suzie did even then wonder why “all the boys I have slept with have wanted to be with each other more?”

My partner Suzie was athletic and beautiful, looking a bit like the Tenniel drawing of Alice in Wonderland with long hair well below her waist. I was the curly-headed Jewboy to her hippie Earth Mama. We were both 18 years old and soon living in the Mission District’s Bernal Heights area, then a racially varied working-class neighborhood. Carlos Santana’s parents lived up the block from us, for instance, as did one female couple among many union families that ranged from Irish to Black to Filipino.

Suzie taught free pottery classes to all the neighborhood kids, while I helped start a free film festival in the basement of the public library. We’d double bill the young Steve McQueen in “The Blob” with a film from SF Newsreel about Bobby Seale and the Black Panther Breakfast program. Together we worked with the Food Conspiracy, a buy-in-bulk no markup venture that sprang from the ’60s commune Kaliflower. Eventually it grew into San Francisco’s premiere grocery collective, Rainbow Foods, which remains the only SF supermarket hip enough to close for the Gay March as a workers’ holiday. The first such event here was in 1970 and called itself a Gay-In, then it became Gay Freedom Day, Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day and later devolved into mere Pride. Is a picture emerging out of the mists? Queerness was a part of our larger counter-culture. And Gay Liberation was clearly an off-shoot of Women’s Liberation.

As a low-paying movement job (and unbeknownst to my draft board, a roundabout way to fulfil its Alternative Service requirement) I was hired by Arlene Goldbard at Draft Help. Don’t try googling it, you will only get info on football team selection. Draft Help was about exploring alternatives to being sent to Vietnam. Started as part of the Experimental College at San Francisco State University (née College), in 1968 we followed the Black Students Union out on strike and moved our location to a Spanish-speaking part of the Mission. Our office was at the then-obscure corner of 18th St. and Dolores– next to what is now BiRite Creamery and caddy-corner to Dolores Park. As part of “third world solidarity” we also helped other folks start Black Draft Help and Asian Draft Help.  

Carl Wittman was our military counselor, for guys who were already in the Armed Forces and were thinking of going AWOL. Best known as a honcho in SDS, he left it in protest of its backward sexual politics after writing “A Gay Manifesto.” Carl’s activism was a lot closer to Black Power and Women’s Liberation (“We’re Here. We’re Queer. Get Used to It!”} as opposed to the more mainstream homophile movement {”First-class Citizenship for Homosexuals”).

Jean Pauline (L), original collective of Modern Times Books, Don Adams and Draft Help’s Arlene Goldbard, arts activists and role models
Carl Wittman, circa his Swarthmore years or maybe Students for a Democratic Society days, judging by the East Coast pants and butch shirt, plus the old electric typewriter

Somehow or other Carl knew I’d be interested, and told me of a small but stirring demo called the “Purple Hands Protest” that took place on Halloween of 1969. A group of early gay libbers picketed against the editorial policies of the San Francisco Examiner, which printed the names and addresses of men arrested in gay bars, which were then booked as morals offenses. So a lost job was likely even if charges were dropped. When printers on the Examiner building’s roof took a bag of purple ink and dumped it on the protesters below, the angry queens used the ink to scrawl “Gay Power” on the side of the building and continued decorating it with their handprints.

In support of Carl, Suzie and I wound up in the convention hall garage underneath SF Civic Center, joining a handful of gay activists there to disrupt the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in 1970. I don’t recall that we contributed much, but consistent pestering by queers (who had adopted that once- insulting term by then) and a few activists boring from within the professional ranks did the trick. The APA would go on to remove its definition of homosexuality as “diseased” in 1973. I believe this was a first national victory for gay rights.

Among our Food Conspiracy cronies around town were several houses of gay men in Noe Valley, a white neighborhood next to Eureka Valley (not yet called The Castro), and lesbians in Duboce (D’butch?) Triangle. They considered me straight but enlightened, and we swapped granola recipes. At another house in the lower Haight a cute guy took me aside to loan me a copy of a paperback novel from the Parisian Press. A pillow book written by Billy Farout —what we’d call a “one-hander”– it took place at actual places in San Francisco such as the Ritch Street Baths and a bar named The Stud. How did he know I’d be fascinated by it? I did not share the book with my girlfriend, but always after kept an eye open for that bar.

Billy Farout was a pseudonym for William Barber., when that was necessary. Photo credit to Bolerium Books, SF, www.bolerium.com where it is still for sale

After traveling for a year by land to Chile at the height of the socialist Allende government (and returning to help with a new organization, Non-Intervention in Chile or NICH) our five-year relationship ended. Suzie broke up with me. It was the right decision on her part, and as I got over my devastation, I thought I’d finally morph into a quiet bisexuality. But as soon as I again started acting on my gay feelings the proverbial closet door slammed wide open, and stayed that way. I took the path to that political gay mens’ house in Noe Valley, where I got my tushy pounded that very same day. 

Chamomile among cherry blossoms, poster courtesy of Michael MacNamara and SF’s Feyboy Mansion

Soon we were all in a gay Marxist study group, which became the June 28th Union, named for the date of the Stonewall Riots led by street transvestites (the current preferred term), some male hustlers and soon Gay Lib activists. Like all young firebrands, each of us wanted to be more radical than the next; considering ourselves Maoists we emulated China’s Red Guards by reading Lenin and doing Criticism/Self-criticism. Among our crew of wannabes were Li’l Joey, Chamomile (the son of a steel tycoon), the ever-sarcastic Ferd Egan, the Michaels Novick and Silverman, plus me: the one most likely to be criticized as an “immature leftist with bourgeois tendencies.”

As gay activists during the 1970s we lived on 17th Street between Sanchez and Guerrero, next door to marijuana crusader Dennis Peron’s faux-midieval house, and near a corner store that was the original location of the lefty Modern Times Bookstore collective. Among my roommates were Johnny Nieto who went on to try to enlist as a monk in the Catholic Church (they wouldn’t have him), Brian Freeman (who went on to help create theater in the Afro Pomo Homos) and my guy Michael Ward, a sheet music store clerk.

Roomie Johnny Nieto and I at Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day March. in the late ’70s. I actually carried a sign reading “Immature Bourgeoise Leftist” for those in on the joke.
My ex Michael Ward and his ex Rick Mavrick. Michael became a Respiratory Therapist and died while working at a pediatric unit in Rome. Rick returned, after years in Berlin where he led a Black Shakespeare company, to Sacramento when he came down with an inoperable brain tumor.

Our June 28th Union cadre had many long meetings each week where we hashed out political correct lines and then proceeded to leaflet in the gay neighborhoods. As Gay Libbers we stereotypically chanted, “Out of the bars and into the streets!” as we marched by. Yet I was more than a little interested in getting myself into the bars and definitely between the sheets.

In the Haight Ashbury these bars included the I-Beam with its Sunday tea dances where you sweated all afternoon to original disco and Gus’s Pub run by Malcolm Thornley who shucked free oysters once a week, and who would go on to open El Rio Your Dive in the Mission. While Valencia was funky hip and then dykish, the Haight style was much more ornate, dripping with thrift store treasures in high Victorian excess. North Beach was the gay neighborhood during the beatnik era (it is where Ginsberg and Gregory Corso held their first poetry reading and Ferlinghetti opened City Lights Bookstore and Press) and still had its gay bars the tiny Capri, the elegant Savoy Tivoli and the delightfully named Anxious Asp.

One downtown neighborhood over, closeted businessmen applauded drag superstar Charles Pierce at the Gold Coast, gawked at sailor go-go boys in gilded cages at the Rendezvous on Sutter and sang in their cups when José Sarria led the closing time tune “God Bless Us Nelly Queens” at the Black Cat on Montgomery . The boys and girls of the night ended up at Compton’s Cafeteria, site of our first transgender insurrectionary act against police brutality in August, 1966– three years pre-Stonewall.

The Black Cat Cafe Bar on Montgomery, in an area once called The Barbary Coast Credit: LGBT Historical Society

Polk Gulch was the gayborhood most full of color, with piano and hustler bars on Polk Street, the Black dance club Oil Can Harry’s and ‘N Touch the longest-lasting gay Asian bar. My favorite boite was the Alley Cat, where you could almost expect a nightly fight involving at least one lesbian. Located in a downscale intersection of two actual alleys, the rent boys my age and young queens of the Alley Cat effected me like catnip. 

photo Michael MacNamara from Leather Archive and Museum, Chicago

We would go to South of Market for, shall we say, far more easily accessible opportunities. There were baths downtown (Bull Dog) and in the Mission (on Liberty Street!), but none like the endless hallways of kinky fantasy found at the Folsom Barracks, including one room with a truck in it, an actual 8-wheeler semi. Of the dozen South of Market gay venues, our favorite was The Stud, founded by hippie George Matson in 1966, three years before Stonewall. It was the first bar of any kind in San Francisco to play punk music.

The hangout of Black disco diva Sylvester and the punk goddess Siouxsie Sioux, the SF hotspot where Etta James played blue and Bjork and Ana Matronic did pop-up sets, it became the regular home to all of us long-hair Studettes, to hetero New Wave girls and drag queens who didn’t even try to pass as women. [see the Q4D’s Characters/With Punctuation for “The Stud: Decade by Decade.”]

It was at one of the South of Market bathhouses, the unique bisexual Sutro Baths in the space that Club 1908 now occupies on Folsom, where I first met Harvey Milk—dressed, alas. Replete with ponytail from his days as a hippie co-producer of the play “Hair” in New York and now running a haphazard camera shop on Castro Street, Harvey was making his first run for supervisor in 1973. He was in the bath’s sex-toy and lube store area, soliciting funds for his campaign in a cardboard dairy carton cut out to simply read “Homo Milk.” He was a do-er with humor, and despite my Maoist pals’ disdain for electoral politics, Harvey and I hit it off. We later worked together against Proposition 6, the anti-gay teacher initiative, and on an anti-real estate speculation tax. We were inspired to fight for against eviction and for every neighborhood’s housing rights because some of the worst real estate wheeler-dealers were also gay.

It is largely forgotten now, but the Democratic Party in San Francisco did everything it could to keep Harvey out of office. They already had vote-delivering gay power broker flunkies like bathhouse owner Rick Stokes, and they had him run against Milk specifically to split the gay vote. But Harvey’s power base grew. at first from the new gay residents who were moving into Eureka Valley. He also reached out to welfare queens from the Haight, show tune queens from Polkstrasse and sweater queens from downtown, those who made the transition to being leather queens or donned Levi’s 501s and became instantly “masculine” Castro clones– and those that did not. But gay-friendly was a new thing, and a lot of people could relate to a candidate who was fully out of the closet and promoted alliances with every minority group, some labor unions (rightwinger-owned Coors Beer was kept out of gay bars in support of a union strike) and progressive people living in each neighborhood who were fed up with Downtown corporate and real estate bigwigs..

Pre-Supervisor Harvey Milk in his Castro Camera shop, possibly still with his ponytail, and Dan Nicoletta his longhaired shop clerk, and later an iconic queer photographer

Harvey had to cut off his ponytail (and see elections change to “by district”) in order to finally get elected, but the hippie roots of San Francisco and Gay Lib never died out. And out of these a new revolutionary trend was growing. Carl Wittman, my Draft Help buddy, contributed to the birth of the Radical Faerie movement, though indirectly. Carl was part of a straight couple who had met as militants of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) in the 1960s, He and his female partner Mimi Feingold moved to San Francisco where they were to become political whores. Not party hacks like Rick Stokes mind you, but literally prostitutes with good politics. 

They came out as a lesbian and gay man and each put ads in the Berkeley Barb, which was like Craigslist became (and what Grindr or Scruff are now). With all the cash they made, they bought land in a small town in southern Oregon. This was one of many communes attracting alternative lifestyle emigres who were fed up with the City and the speed and heroin epidemic that had overtaken it. Carl and his lover Allan Troxler bought out Mimi, and theirs became the first gay male farm in Golden, near Wolf Creek. Up the road from Carl and Allan was a feminist separatist commune, where only women were welcome– other than their two gay male close neighbors. 

Allan Troxler and Carl Wittman during Wolf Creek years, or in Durham SC where they moved when Carl became sick. There they continued to organize and teach Scottish & English Country Dance

In 1976 Carl and Allan took over publication of RFD: A Country Journal for Gay Men from its Iowa founders. That same year George Jalbert, known by his faerie name Crow and by his even more comfy nickname Chenille, bought land on the west side of Highway 101 in Wolf Creek, Oregon. This land he would eventually sell to Nomenus and in 1986 it became the first “faery sanctuary.” George continued to work as a nurse at General Hospital in San Francisco and in the early ‘80s helped found Ward 5B, the first in the nation specifically for HIV patients. George Jalbert was to die of AIDS in 1987, the first of 42 Ward 5B nurses to succumb to the virus. [for Wolf Creek chronology see: https://nomenus.org/wiki/history-of-nomenus/]

George Jalbert (left) at one of Sandy Lowe’s (center) pond parties in lovely Windsor, Sonoma County celebrating Spring Buckeye blossoms and Karl Marx’ birthday. I wish I could remember the name of the guy on the right, who arrived from across the hills on horseback! The next-door neighbor was George Matson of The Stud bar.

On July 4, 1976 as a sort of alternative celebration of the United States Bicentennial, the new gay farm hosted the conference “Faggots & Class Struggle”. During that event the Gay Men’s Theater Collective premiered their seminal work, Crimes Against Nature, certainly the first play about and by out gay men. The play’s enactments of the cast member’s authentic stories included those of Chuck Solomon, Greg Kollenborn, Timo Lupine-Child, Tommy Pace, Anthony Eschbach, David Baker and Martin Worman (all deceased) and John (Sokoloff) Berryhill, Rick Wilson, and Richard LaRose (alive today).

Michael Starkman was also an original cast member and thereby co-author of that passionate group-theater piece. We first met in BAGL—it’s pronounced like the Jewish bakery goods but is in fact an acronym for Bay Area Gay Liberation—a group aimed at labor coalitions and founded by several Trotskyist organizers in 1975. Half a decade after the original Gay Liberation Fronts, BAGL took on a slew of -isms argued week to week. As Michael puts it, “culling from so many progressive forces bubbling around us, feminism, class analysis – the most boring— and anti-imperialism.”

Can’t remember the smiley guy in the foreground, (Greg?) but the one glancing down is Michael Starkman

Starkman also recalls another outgrowth of Gay Liberation. “The Radical Faerie movement happened in a lot of cities at about the same time, despite the hagiography of Harry Hay. I’m not sure that we were using that term before Hay issued his famous Call to The Desert in ’79. But Arthur Evans, who would publish “Witchcraft & the Gay Counterculture” was talking about pagans in his Faerie Circle. And there was a Radical Sissy study group I was in since about 1977, with Tede Matthews, a stubborn, generous drag and welfare queen doing genderfuck, and really class-fuck, working-class drag when drag meant upper-class lady imagery– because really, who wouldn’t want to be Lana Turner? Tede later worked as part of the Modern Times Books collective and you can see and hear him in the classic gay documentary Word Is Out. Also Silvana Nova, she actually made a mock run for San Francisco supervisor, and quite a few other sissies. Our analysis focused on masculinist imperialism, the patriarchal energy operating even in Gay Lib.” I can hear your crit/self-crit, Michael dear and can only reply, Guilty as charged.

poster Marshal Reiner 1977, see BAR https://www.ebar.com/bartab///233375
Tede Matthews, being backed by a whole band on the stage in front of City Hall SF during a Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day celebration

There is a word for the folks we lost in those times and it is Hero. Of the three trans women of color credited with sparking the Stonewall Insurrection in ’69– Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P, Johnson and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy– only Miss Major remains alive and she continues organizing. Harvey Milk, at times imagined as a martyr, was rather a fighter, a joker, a lover of Latino lads– and hardly a saint. Poet Allen Ginsberg was a joyfully lecherous Jewish grandfather for gay boys everywhere, Ram Dass, after working with Tim Leary, grew up, came out and taught compassionate hospice care during the worst of the AIDS years. Mike Silverstein committed suicide when he was rejected as too faggy for the privileged white revolutionaries of Prairie Fire Organizing Committee (the legal arm of Weather Under-ground). My bi-racial girlfriend Debbie Winston was shot and killed while pregnant by her then-partner in the Berkeley flats. Ferd Egan became a drug harm reduction activist and an ACT UP firebrand.

Gary “Shocky” Comfort, during those years the most beautiful man I had ever met, was a Filipino American who died alone despite the advent of groups like GAPA, for Gay Asian-Pacific Islanders. The SDS radical, draft refuser and proto-fairy Carl Wittman ended it when his AIDS symptoms became insufferable. Members of the gender-bending SF Cockettes, “Disco Heat” chanteuse Sylvester James Jr., and writer and NY Public Theater director Martin Worman, plus HIV ward nurse George “Chenille” Jalbert. All died early of AIDS, before the “cocktail” of meds made HIV manageable.

And the scores of sisters and brothers we’ve lost since– to one virus or the next, to suicide, to racism, to homophobia, to overt anti-trans hatred and just plain misogyny.

Pioneers, comrades and lovers and heroes all, I pass them on to you.

Shocky on the left, me on the right. He ran the snack bar at Ritch Street Baths. When he fell ill with AIDS he returned to his mother’s house and didn’t ever want to be seen again
Disco diva Sylvester, his last appearance was in a wheelchair at the Castro Street Fair, here with Fair founder Harvey Milk, a life-long opera queen
Barbara Collier (1946-1996), a mentor of mine and 30-year pillar at Martin’s House of Hospitality on Potrero in SF, with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his visit there. He didn’t want to leave the soup kitchen’s homeless guests. Donations: www.martindeporres.org/
Anderson Toone and Miss Major at Tom Waddell Transgender Tuesdays Clinic’s 10 year Anniversary, August 2, 2005, held at Drs. Carol Queen and Robert Lawrence’s Center for Sex & Culture. Anderson and Miss Major both continue their activism in The South. To donate to Miss Major’s work: houseofgg.org. Photo: Dan Nicoletta dannic@covad.net

This chapter originally appeared in the City Lights Books Press anthology “Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation” edited by Tommi Avicolli Mecca, 2009.

Written by Mark Freeman and updated for Queer4Decades in the pandemic Summer of 2020