Gay Liberation was a grassroots populist movement. It occurred against all odds. It started from small focal points in Boston, New York and San Francisco. Each cell had a nucleus of dedicated few. They mimeographed flyers and ran fundraising dances in church basements. Most were too young to realize that what they were trying to do was impossible. That was a major element of their success.
Within the 15 years from the Stonewall riot of 1969 and the death of Patient Zero from AIDS in 1984, Gay Liberation had spread globally through new gay publications, mainstream news coverage and gay travel. It was like a good virus which was devastated by the bad virus to follow. The viral nature of Gay Liberation is thought by some to have led to the intentional ignoring of the AIDS epidemic in its early years. It may have seemed to the more conservative and homophobic that AIDS was an answer to a prayer. We now know how mistaken they were.
I lived Gay Liberation and the AIDS epidemic. At 21, I distributed mimeographed flyers around Boston to announce various community actions and events. The first Gay Pride Parade in Boston was one of them. At 34 in 1984, I was infected with HIV. Those 13 years in the warm sun of the Gay Liberation movement sustained me as I worked on in health care through the AIDS crisis.
My parents were blue-collar people. They had gone hungry at times during the Great Depression. They had suffered through World War II. My father traveled across Europe in the U.S. Army from Normandy to Germany. My mother was a munitions inspector in a U.S. Army arsenal. Yet, despite privation and little appreciation from people with money and power, they managed to build a fairly happy life after the war. They were sober, mindful people. I honor them for that. I try to carry on their legacy as an heir to their sober mindfulness.
Gay Liberation has been all but forgotten by gay men in the U.S.. Liberation in the post-AIDS world of consumer technology has been replaced by lobbying and digital hook-ups. The hedonism which was once a celebration of survival and defiance by gay men of sexually active age has now been reduced to just plain hedonism, an extended adolescence. It is gay cruises and trekking holidays in exotic places for those with the cash. And gay media is one huge infomercial for the commercialism which has replaced community activism. Middle age for gay men now offers legal marriage and financial planning.
Gay men who seek higher education are now free to become bourgeois. Rather than pursuing political science or social work degrees, they may seek MBA's, JD's and MD's. Those with a deeper social consciousness may get seduced into the social justice milieu where they will be bullied by lesbians, asexual feminists obsessed with rape and transgender folk. None of these options is liberating. They are just another form of seeking acceptance or special treatment, respectively, from a vastly heterosexual world, which has always cared less about us than we have assumed.
So, as one of the decimated ranks of American gay men my age, I identify with the dodo bird, the elephant and the blue whale. We men of Gay Liberation are dying and will be gone soon. The death throes of my generation are unpleasant to observe in today's various digital media. We are considered trolls by both Right and Left on the current political spectrum. We are expected to get weepy over Hillary Clinton's denigration. Why? I cannot figure that out. She did little for us. And she enabled a husband who displayed himself to be a lying sexist pig.
We men of Gay Liberation will pass without heirs. But this has always been the way of our kind, until modern gay men decided it would be cool to produce IVF clones of themselves with surrogates. Will those heirs be heirs of gay men in their minds? Or will they be heirs of men who were married in the suburbs and happened to fall on some endless gray scale of modulated sexual identity? Our kind, the likes of Edward Carpenter, Walt Whitman, Henry Hay and Harvey Milk, have been fine with being set apart and leaving a legacy to be picked up by whomever chose to do so. Perhaps movements cannot have true heirs, but the ideas they leave behind in articulate form may have, in another age.