"We come here each week to discuss and portray homosexuality as a perfectly normal, natural, and healthy way of being, with other human beings."
That’s how I opened my radio show, Gaydreams, each week on WXPN-FM in Philadelphia, back in the early Nineties. I might have shortened that to what we say today: Love is Love.
Up until recently–maybe the past 15 years–the dominating voice was that of Christian extremists, who wanted to re-enforce the lie that homosexuality isn’t normal, doesn’t occur naturally in nature and, as their “holy scriptures” tell them, is worthy of the death penalty.
Back when I was growing up and becoming sexually aware in the Sixties, I had to believe the lies that were told about me. We heard no other messages. LGBT people, as we are now called, marched at Independence Hall on Independence Day, July Fourth 1964, but I wouldn’t have known about that–I was ten-years-old. Given that homosexuality itself wasn’t mentionable in polite society, I doubt that it got much coverage, and certainly would not have been talked about in my family.
I can’t even remember the first time I knew that I wasn’t alone in the world, that there was nobody like me. My pre-pubescent mind–I knew I was “different” from the time I was eight-years-old, not like the other boys–wasn’t capable of reasoning that, if religion and society had proscribed homosexuality, then certainly other homosexuals existed.
In college, my only exposure to other gay men was an openly gay fraternity brother. Flash, as we called him, was pretty much the stereotypical gay man and, like many of us who internalized the hatreds we experienced every day in a world that openly hated love itself, Flash made me extremely uncomfortable. Of course, I now know that there were others like me, able to hide (somewhat–people always suspected me, because I wasn’t a skirt chaser like the ‘real men”).
With every problem that I’ve encountered in my life, I’ve been able to find reading material to help me solve riddles and get facts to help me through that problem. But back in the Sixties and Seventies, when libraries were the primary source of information, you couldn’t find much on homosexuality, or being gay, or anything related to sex, really.
A book entitled The Sensuous Woman–subtitled The First How-To Book For The Female Who Wants To Be All Woman–was published in 1969, but the author was known as “J,” because, I assume … well, even at the height of the so-called “sexual revolution” of the Sixties, claiming credit for writing such a book might have been a career killer, at the very least. The equally scandalous The Sensuous Man was published in 1971.
(We now know that the author, “J,” was Joan Theresa “Terry” Garrity, who was also “M,” who co-authored the equally scandalous The Sensuous Man: The First How-To Book For The Man Who Wants To Be a Great Lover, with her husband, John, and another guy, Len Forman. I sought out a copy of the book before a date with a woman in 1976, with whom I was pretty sure I was going to have sex, so that I could learn how to properly perform oral sex on a woman.)
By the time The Joy of Sex came out in 1972, Alex Comfort was able to put his name on the book as editor, but he had a PhD after his name, which gave him some authority as an academic, I suppose. Back then, writing such a book for other than academic or medical purposes marked you as a pervert.
While I’m on the Dark Ages of human sexuality, let me give you a couple of illustrations of what it was like:
In most places, it was illegal for women to wear pants. That was considered “cross-dressing,” which was a no-no. I remember my mother’s first pants-suit–my mother was always a “fashion plate,” a hot dresser–and most people were scandalized, especially her mother!
When I worked at the local pharmacy when I was seventeen-years-old, condoms were kept behind the counter in the back, along with the controlled drugs, and you needed a doctor’s note letting the pharmacist know it was okay to sell you those shameful things, and the buyer had to prove that he was married.
Back then, all forms of so-called “sodomy” were illegal, even between a man and his wife.
That is the repressive world that Christian extremists in America wish they could revive. That is a huge plank in their political agenda.As one political pundit pretending to be “conservative” (there’s nothing conservative about these fascists) put it, they want to return shame back to sexuality, especially homosexuality. Think hard about that before you cast a vote for a return to The Inquisition.
If you want an excellent idea of what these people are about, watch Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, one of the best performances ever by Winona Ryder, and a pretty perfect portrayal of the perversions of such people who would control the lives of others based upon their ancient, out-of-touch “holy scriptures.”
Today we can almost take for granted the widespread availability of both written and audio materials about virtually any expression of human sexuality. Back then, I can remember sneaking into my bedroom as a teenager with a pool ad featuring a shirtless male model in the local newspaper’s Sunday magazine section to use as “prurient” material for…well, you can guess.
But some of the books I read as a young gay man emerging from the shame of the closet are still valid today, and should be read by any gay man trying to heal from the damage done by growing up in a society that offers up condemnation of our sexuality at virtually every turn. I can’t speak for women, although I suspect some of these books will help them as well.
When I first came out, I was fortunate to have a resource in Center City Philadelphia, a gay-owned bookstore called Giovanni’s Room, named after https://amzn.to/2SCqPf2the James Baldwin book of the same name also highly recommended, by the way, although it’s fairly typical of its genre at that time because it ends sadly, which was the prevailing message about homosexuality at the time).
Ed Hermance owned Giovanni’s Room, and I would visit him each week, when I visited the gay shrink who was helping me with my coming out process. My objective was to read some form of non-fiction each week about my budding sexuality–and I was “budding” at the ripe old age of thirty-one! I thank Ed from the bottom of my heart for being my guide at that time.
Some of these books I encountered in my role as host and producer of Gaydreams, which gave me the opportunity to meet and interview the authors of many of the new books about gay life flooding the market at that time. I don’t want to give the impression that these are the most important, but those who come immediately to mind are Patricia Nell Warren, with whom I developed a wonderful friendship (now gone from us), Edmund White, Felice Picano (who wrote The Joy of Gay Sex, and an absolutely delightful man!), Alan Berube, Alan Ginsberg, Armistad Maupin, and too many others to name. I count myself as extremely fortunate to have met them all, and to have read many of their books!
So here, in no particular order except maybe the first one, for reasons that will become obvious, are some of the books I recommend for anyone who would like to undo the damage done by the absolutely horrible messages we receive about ourselves as we discover that we are “one of those,” and maybe don’t know enough, yet, to not believe that those messages are true. I use these in my practice as a life coach for gay men as well.
The Best Little Boy In The World
by John Reid (aka, Andrew Tobias)
This book was a staple for anyone hungering for a book that reflected himself as a gay boy/man back in the Seventies and beyond. First published in 1973, TBLBITW describes what went through the minds of most of us who discovered, to our horror, that we were “one of them.” For many of us, being homosexual wasn’t a mere defect of character–it was “the worst sin in the Bible,” an abomination, a terrible shame on the family. Not only did must it be kept secret–which precluded talking with anyone about it–but, in order to compensate for this terrible defect, the afflicted had to be the best at everything and become saintly in all other areas of life.
That’s a lot of pressure on a boy who doesn’t know any better, and can’t find guidance from anyone. And Tobias’s prose illustrates how terrible that kind of life is for anyone subjected to it.
Because he was also a highly-respected and successful financial advisor and celebrity, he wrote under a pseudonym so as not to destroy his career. Later, he reissued the book under his real name, updated with a new title: The Best Little Boy In The World Grows Up, which you’ll find here.
Being Homosexual: Gay Men and Their Development
by Richard Isay
Speaking of ‘being homosexual,” psychiatrist Richard Isay published his book in 1989, and he was one of the first interviews I did on Gaydreams. Isay wrote this book from his experiences in helping gay men to normalize their homosexuality for over twenty years.
For me, he proved that homosexuality is normal, natural…innate…and not proof of some a priori evil that infects those who ‘suffer.” This book takes us through the normal developmental stages of personality development, from the first discovery of our “difference” through the gyrations we go through to compensate, to our eventual (hopefully) acceptance of who we are as full-fledged members of society. He released another title after this one–I recommend this original.
One of the most valuable insights of this book, for me, was what Isay called “The Gay Oedipus Complex.” We often hear “manly men” say of effeminate men, “Why do they have to act that way, and make it bad for the rest of us?” which assumes that effeminate men “act that way” by choice. The Gay Oedipus Complex (GOC) explains the phenomenon quite nicely.
To understand the Gay Oedipus Complex (GOC), you need to know what the actual Oedipus Complex (OC) is.
The OC is a Freudian invention, taken from the ancient Greek play, Oedipus Rex, written by Sophocles and first performed circa 429 B.C.E.
Without going too deeply into the mechanics, in the OC, a little heterosexual boy of between the ages of 4-6, whose natural sexual attraction is for females, desires the affections of his mother, sees that his father successfully woos his mother, and emulates the father’s behavior so that he can win her, too. In the play, Oedipus kills his father–one hopes the little boy doesn’t make it quite that far. But seriously, it is in the imitation of the father’s behaviors that the little boy learns masculine behaviors.
In the GOC, the little gay boy between ages 4-6, whose natural sexual attraction is for males, desires the affections of his father. He sees his mother winning over his father, so he begins to emulate his mother’s behaviors.
This emulation of female behaviors can have at least three results, according to Isay: 1) The little boy develops a wonderful relationship with his dad, he grows into a confident and powerful young man, finds a suitable male mate with whom he has a wonderful relationship because his father nurtured his budding sexuality from its first evidences; or 2) The father has a powerfully negative reaction to his son’s effeminacy, the son gets the message that “acting that way” is wrong, and he learns to act like a “real man”; or 3) The father, who questions his own sexuality (secretly, maybe even subliminally), is horrified to discover that he has a homosexual son, and withdraws from him because he doesn’t know how to cope with him (the anti-gay crowd gets this one wrong: They claim that homosexuality is “caused” by a distant father, but they’ve reversed the causal relationship–the father becomes distant because of his son’s nascent homosexuality).
That’s just one of the many gems you’ll find in this book. I highly recommend it.
Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality
by Andrew Sullivan
I don’t remember why I never got to interview Sullivan. I’m thinking it was because I couldn’t get to New York or DC when he was there. Authors often didn’t come to Philadelphia, so I grabbed my recording equipment and took the train north or south. When I did that, I would make as full a day as possible and interview three or four people for the show. I’m saddened that I missed meeting this brilliant man, who continues to write thoughtful, philosophically sound commentary today.
Sullivan highlights four categories of argument for homosexuality, serving up the inconsistencies of those who oppose normalizing this perfectly normal expression of human sexuality. Those categories are: Prohibitionist, Liberationist, Conservative, and Liberal.
The book was highly controversial when it was published, even among gay rights activists, because Sullivan argued against anti-discrimination laws–a position with which I happen to agree (if someone hates me, I want to know that, and I do not want to risk spending my hard-earned gay money with them, thus enriching them to support efforts against my interests!).
None other than the conservative National Review said that Sullivan “had done for homosexuality what John Stuart Mill did for freedom,” and that only those familiar with the history of political philosophy would “recognize the scale of his achievement.” The NR disagreed with Sullivan’s arguments for gays in the military, as well as gay marriage, and expressed concern that what we now know as bisexual people, but who were at that time (and now, by some) as “confused,” might be convinced to go homo instead of opting for the more “wholesome choice” of hetero.
Read reviews and find a sampling here.
The Church and the Homosexual
by John McNeill
I had to look up McNeill’s title, because I know him as Father John McNeill, but the Roman Catholic Church defrocked him after this beautiful defense of homosexuality through a favorable interpretation of the Bible passages–all seven of them–that are traditionally used to condemn us in a religious context.
I include this book because some may still be what I call “begging the church to forgive them and let them back in,” which is where I was when I first read it. Many of us come to this point trying to be “the best little boy in the world” so that God will love us. McNeill’s soulful, loving work will set you free!
The history of the book is about as interesting as the meat of the book itself. When Father McNeill first proposed the book, the church hierarchy thought it was going to be a typical condemnation of homosexuality–the church calls homosexuality an “intrinsic moral evil,” which means that it is inescapably interwoven into the very fabric of our being, making our situation hopeless–so they gave the book the church’s imprimatur, or official blessing.
Once the book had been completed, it became obvious that McNeill had written the exact opposite of what the church preached. Not only was the imprimatur withdrawn, but McNeill was kicked out of the priesthood, or “defrocked,” as they put it. I’ve always been amused that the church defrocks someone for what it considers “sexual sins.” Wouldn’t defrocking actually titillate the perverted victim of the defrocking?
McNeill found a way to publish the book anyway in 1976.
Anyway, however that question is decided, McNeill’s book will only be available used or new from select sellers. But I want you to know that it exists. Other similar books have been published, but this one’s history makes it special.
McNeill also became a lifelong friend, and was a delight to interview. Writing this, I just found out that he passed away in 2015. Rest in Peace.
The church, by the way, continues to tell gay kids that they are infected with an intrinsic evil. My heart hurts for them.
The Velvet Rage: Overcoming The Pain Of Growing Up Gay In A Straight Man’s World
by Alan Downs
This is the only book in the list that does not come from my Gaydreams period, sicne it was published in 2005, and I left the show in 1996, so I would not have had the opportunity to interview the author. In fact, several attempts to contact him have failed.
But the book has been extremely valuable, especially in my gay life coaching practice. The scope is similar to Being Homosexual, by Isay, but more relevant in a practical sense. It offers methods by which to heal, whereas Isay’s book is more about case studies. Both are important and relevant to the growth and development of a healthy gay sensibility.
The most important contribution Downs makes to the effort to heal is the idea of “toxic shame.” He illustrates how toxic shame infects our lives, our psyches, and influences our behaviors.
I think he gets into the weeds as the book progresses, and he can’t be blamed for not being able to tell us exactly how to heal from the deep wounds of growing up gay in a society infected by such toxicity.
But identifying the problem takes us more than halfway to a happy ending. And this book gives us an excellent picture of what causes our suffering.
The New Joy Of Gay Sex
by Felice Picano
It just wouldn’t do to deal with all this “gay theory” if we didn’t also get into the practicum. Felice was one of the most delightful men I’ve ever encountered. He flirted with me from the moment he came into my recording studio at the radio station. He was a devilishly handsome man–still is! He has written something like 30 books, and I very much enjoyed Like People In History.
I seem to remember that, at the time of our interview, Felice, a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, was moving to Los Angeles. Maybe memory fails me today, but he was an absolutely delightful man!
But if I were going to trust anyone to show me how to have highly enjoyable sex, it would be Felice Picano!
States Of Desire: Travels In Gay America
by Edmund White
This sexual travelogue, written before the plague decimated our numbers and changed the way that gay men view sex maybe forever, records Whites travels through America, and an examination of how each community of gay men he encountered dealt with sexual identity as well as sex itself.
If you’re at all curious about the culture of gay bars, backrooms, and bathhouses functioned pre-epidemic, then this features a cultural classic. Published in 1980, just prior to the first case of what was then called GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency) by a medical establishment that thought of gay men as beasts who could carry some weird disease that “normal” people couldn’t get, States of Desire: Travels In Gay America represents an anthropological record of how a repressed group suddenly freed of that repression can release sexual, political, and social energy in an explosion that can probably be likened to the Big Bang.
I was surprised to find a new version, States of Desire, Revisited: Travels In Gay America published in 2014. Looks like I’ve got something new to read!