Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 14 April 1997


By Jack Nichols


When Allen Ginsberg died a week ago I got to thinking about how he'd lived. Peter Orlovsky had been with him through most of his life, a loving companion. I'd visited their Lower East Side apartment once, retrieving photos to run with one of Allen's poems, Jimmy Berman Newsboy Gay Lib Rag. A handsome woman answered the door, while hunky Peter peered out at me over her shoulder. Yes, Peter was, at least, bisexual, and he was also, from what I could gather, boinking this lovely lady.

It didn't seem to matter at all to Allen because Allen's approach to relationships had always been inclusive, not exclusive. That is, he loved Peter for himself, not for where Peter's peter just happened to get petered out on one evening or another. He also knew that he and Peter both could and should care for others too. They hugged everybody who wanted a hug. So, why, he reasoned, lean hard on Peter to assure he was practicing sexual fidelity? Why be a warden for Peter for life? The years passed and, instead of playing "watchdog"-- each of these loving companions-- these friends-- did what they wanted to do. The two of them grew old together. A photograph of Peter, distinguished, bearded and gray, appeared in the Times, showing him in attendance at Allen's Buddhist memorial service. Allen, said the newspaper, had left the great love of his life financially secure. Even when they came and went, traveling alone to South America, to India, or elsewhere, they always returned to share their dumpy little Lower East Side apartment happily. The fidelity they knew was not sexual. It was soulful. They liked each other. They stood for similar things. They had fun, like children, peeing into the pot of conventional thought, being outrageous, singing Blake's poetry on recordings, hugging one another across every conceivable sexual continuum. True, they had their ups and downs. But they squeezed in, nevertheless, over thirty years of friendly togetherness. That's more than a lot of the romantic-brief-carrying fidelity folks have managed.

Take note! The much vaunted institution of monogamous marriage-- its same-sex angle now capturing gay press headlines daily--is failing for heterosexuals at a rate of approximately 50%. There are far too few Joanne Woodward's and Paul Newman's, it seems. Not even members of Britain's Royal Family, the Windsor's, are able to keep their peters any more sequestered than did Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg. The Royal Family gets its pay, in great part, to set an example to all of the British Isles on how family living should be conducted. The difference between Prince Charles and Allen Ginsberg is this: Allen did not stand up to support the old approaches to love and romance. He knew that the ever-changing world demands that we approach things differently now. He was pointing, in his life and his poems, to a new dimension in personal relationships, one that stood on the firmest of foundations, cemented by self-esteem and friendship. Prince Charles' wedding to Diana, we were told repeatedly, was a fairy tale affair, and, unfortunately, because it was, in fact, just that, it didn't last happily ever after.

After observing a myriad of marriages among straights, the gay pioneer, Lige Clarke, told me long ago how he regarded the "sacred" words, husband or wife. "Husband or Wife are words without meaning," he said, "unless they mean Friend." He knew that most of what goes by the name of romance can be just as irrational and silly as is a conversion to some religious cult, accompanied in like manner by a host of hopeful, projected illusions. When these evaporate under a clear light, so does the quick-started romance.

Lige's philosophy affected me profoundly. I noticed he politely refused to attend straight marriage ceremonies. He was not, after all, the ritual-loving type. Ritual, as he saw it, kept people locked in the same old boxes. He eschewed it in favor of an adventuresome approach that changed its course regularly on the way to new, unexpected discoveries. If I was to keep up with Lige, to really be his friend, I knew that I too must open myself to such changes, and that I must love myself too, giving attention to my own body, while listening well to what he said; being willing to share the excitement he felt as he traveled to new places on the spice and variety map of human consciousness.

As early as 1964, when I first met Lige, he made me promise one night that I'd never insist we wear identical shirts or outfits, as he'd seen others doing. This early promise seemed easy enough to keep. He explained it simply, saying he wanted each of us to hold on to our own cultivated individualities, that he didn't want us to be Tweedle-Dumbed and Dee'd.

In January, 1966, a month before the meeting of the first national confab of gay and lesbian organizations in Kansas City, Lige insisted we write an article together, one which became the first of many we'd write through the ensuing years. It appeared in one of the few gay movement magazines extant, The Homosexual Citizen, a joint publication of the Mattachine Society of Washington (D.C.) and The Mattachine Society of Florida, Inc.

This article, more Lige's idea then than mine, said that whether a relationship is same-sex or opposite sex-oriented, those who take part have certain responsibilities to one another. Any relationship in which one partner insists that the other must conform to a set of pre-arranged rules, eliminates a spontaneity that lies curled at the base of all exciting relations, turning daily life into dull routine, into ritual. Many gay men and lesbians, Lige wrote, don't realize that when they honor heterosexual religious formulas as their own, they often--as a result-- suffer the same suffocating, dehabilitating difficulties many straights do. Notions of "duty" (to marry) and "obligation" (to reproduce) put heavy weights into otherwise light-hearted, free-spirited relationships, making it too easy to sink them.

Marriage? It was clear to Lige that many form legal bonds, as Mary Chilton, a free-love advocate from the last century had put it, "out of selfish, mercenary, bread and clothes considerations," and as "a protection against poverty, combined with a purely selfish fear of the condemnation of the world, should the lovers follow their intuitions and obey the dictates of their hearts by simply remaining lovers."

The freedom Lige sought for us was not to have multiple sex partners. It was to make changes in the laws and assumptions governing the institution of marriage. To free love, in fact, from the bondage of legalized marriage.

In the days when this pre-Stonewall article got published, many gay men and lesbians were rushing into heterosexual marriages to prove to themselves and to others that they weren't gay. "That many should rush into marriage to avoid being thought "queer", we wrote, "is another indication of the harm done by warped prejudices and conformist pressures." Or, if such same-sex lovers accepted themselves, as we did, they often, unfortunately, aped straight customs, since no acceptable gay customs had yet been developed. This conformist pressure is what Lige wanted us, in our own relationship, to avoid. The reasons why were clearer to him than to me.

Shortly after our article appeared, because (even though I'd helped write it) I hadn't yet learned--after two years of living with Lige-- what he actually meant, he asked that we separate. Not forever, he promised, but at least until I could understand that we wouldn't be traveling across traditional (straight) marital routes. I was devastated. Separate? I worried that Lige didn't love me anymore. "Why can't we live together?" I begged. It took me about a year to get a handle on Lige's thinking. In the meantime I moaned and complained, having more than my share of what we southerners call hissy fits. We dated. We fought. We stayed away. We traveled independently. And then, as the counterculture revolution and the hippies came on board, Allen Ginsberg being one of its leading choirmasters, I began somehow to relax. I learned to laugh again. My posture showed how I was returning to self-confidence and ease. Lige noticed this, and once again we began living together. After eight years passed, our first book--the first non-fiction memoir by a male couple-- was published. It was called "I Have More Fun With You Than Anybody." (St. Martin's Press, 1972)

We told, as we described our break-up and our reunion in that book, how we'd rethought our old values, examining them to see if they were making us truly happy. We searched ourselves, discussing lingering fears and insecurities.

What did we learn? First, that each of us must try to take care of himself, that we mustn't lean thoughtlessly for support. We discovered that acute self-awareness of both body and mind led to happiness for both of us. It was this independence and self-awareness that drew us to each other most.

We learned to be alone at times, and we found that being alone is a tool that creates togetherness. Constant companionship, as much as we may have longed for it, gave us few opportunities to bring home new thoughts and little surprises. Each day, even if we stayed at home, we took time to ourselves. To read. To listen to music. To stand--yoga fashion--on our heads.

We examined jealousy and concluded it is a neurotic disease. Sensible people don't go around asking, "Has anybody besides me shown an interest in you?" We saw that only misery lay ahead if we concerned ourselves with such questions.

When real sexual freedom exists, we said, it's seldom used to excess. The ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, had written "Things which go together naturally, don't need to be tied." We believed that.

If we held on to each other too tightly, our life-dance would be clumsy. If we were tense, we'd step all over each other's feet. At the same time, if we still laughed for the same reasons, we knew that neither of us would be dancing far away. If we didn't act like wardens for each other, we found that we had more fun with each other than with anybody else.

Sexy moments aren't always the same, we knew. We were excited by each other not because we had sex, but because we shared values. Affection, humor, honesty and curiosity were the best aphrodisiacs.

Its important, Lige wrote, not to confuse any sexual act with nearness in other areas of life. "A perfect connection in the sack tells us we're having fun," he said, "but its not our only barometer. If we don't writhe ecstatically one day, there's always tomorrow. In the meantime, coupled values--kindness, good humor, empathy, and bodily energy-- keep our bedroom door open."

The soul of sensuality, Lige advised, is procrastination. We wouldn't be in a hurry. Grabbing too quickly at a flower, Robert Burns had said in his poems, causes that flower's petals to fall. Sexbed isn't a demonstration ground. "Not even the almighty orgasm, which society teaches us to demand, measures our pleasure. As in conversations, high points are reached when we don't consciously pursue them. The means--foreplay--is more important than the end.

"We watched in dismay as couples we knew misused their sexual freedom. In the name of liberation, they were often hateful and unkind to each other. They used sexual freedom as a power tool, slamming away at one another, releasing their hostilities and insecurities. "You screwed around last night, so I'm going to screw around tonight..."

As we saw it, not only did such people misunderstand each other, but they understood the good sweet nature of touch and feeling itself. There was contempt in their voices, not only for sex, but for the "sex objects" they hoped to make.

We began to realize that the nature of our affection might be similar in some ways to the companionship we enjoyed with good friends when we were young. In childhood we were both explorers, curious, and adventuresome. Our good friends shared adventures with us, popping in an out of caves, of haunted houses, of winding paths and wood thickets. We were builders, constructing tree-huts, underground passages. We were rascals, taking special delight in surprising our elders. We looked out to the world beyond us, going on expeditions, riding our bikes as far as we could peddle, before we returned, exhausted to our homes.

Since we had no children of our own, we were free to travel, to pick up and leave for any locale whenever we desired. Our children, we said, we met along our open roads, "both young and old, both bright and dull witted: our acquaintances and friends. They were those we counseled and assisted in times of distress, they were our thoughts, those which reproduced their kind and helped make, hopefully, for a better world.

We learned to save ourselves first, if we were to save others. The way to do, said Lao Tzu, is to be. To live beliefs, rather than worrying about how to spread them, or how to convince others of their validity. Gay liberation for us would not be a cause or an organization, but living in accordance with the best we discovered, alone and together. Marriage was not the word we chose to describe this relationship. Friendship, instead, was our strong bond.

1975 arrived. The last time I saw Lige alive, he was getting into an auto to go on a two week vacation. He was concerned I'd react with dismay at his hurried decision to leave. I didn't fuss. I knew he'd soon return. And he loved me much for the calm manner I radiated. Before he stepped into the car, he kissed me, saying, "Now I love you more than I've ever loved you before." Within three days he was dead, murdered mysteriously, but his last words (not Lige in person) returned to give me comfort. I'd granted another's freedom and garnered love as a result.

This said, do I support legalized marriages for gay men and lesbians? Yes and no. First, let it be said that the larger groups--HRC and NGLTF-- in the gay, lesbian and bisexual movement itself didn't initiate this demand for marriage. It was first made an issue by the Christian Coalition in an attempt to bring focus to the one matter upon which the heterosexual side of the sexual continuum seems unhappy about. Since then too, the matter has erupted because individual Hawaiian gays and lesbians took it to court. The strongest supporters of same-sex marriage in America's gay communities are probably the members of the gay-founded Christian denomination, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. I am not a member of that denomination.

On a personal level, marriage just isn't my style. But equal rights is my style. If other Americans enjoy the right to marry, so should gay men and lesbians have that right, even if I, personally, have no love for the institution. Would I settle for a domestic partnership arrangement? No, as my old friend and comrade-in-arms, Franklin Kameny, says, because that would be accepting a "back of the bus" arrangement. I feel similarly about access to military service. Do I, personally, want to be able to drop bombs on problematic planetary neighbors? No. But yes, if other Americans have that right, so should gay men and lesbians.

Last Friday night I dropped in at a local gay club. Sitting at the bar was a young man who, I realized, was an unhappy camper indeed. As we talked he explained how his lover of several years had recently left him. A legalized marriage wouldn't have helped to keep them together. In fact, it would have made their plight even more difficult, requiring court expenses and a protracted bitterness. His lover had told him that any romance they'd known had altogether disappeared from their lives. Though this young man once considered himself attractive, there was little about his distraught face that showed any evidence of vitality or adventure-love. Like all too many folk, he accepted the culture around him without questioning it, as if it were natural. If same-sex marriages were legal, he'd now be in the midst of a messy divorce, he explained.

As we talked I thought about something Mary Chilton, the free-love feminist advocate, had written in 1856:

"Oh! cautious and conservative reformer, look about you and see the careworn faces of your respectable married friends; listen and hear the sighs and groans of heartbroken sufferers! What does all this sickness and misery mean that we see everywhere? Are not these prudent people really the martyrs, and not the brave and fearless, who leave home and friends, and position and luxury, for the love of Freedom and the freedom of love? Not they the martyrs; no, you will find the martyrs among the respectable and those deemed comfortable, and certainly cared-for portion of the community. Could you look behind the scenes, you would find manacles on arms that in secret are raised to might see the vinegar-soaked sponge of respectability, tauntingly offered in mockery, to the fevered lips."

My immediate thought--some kind of advice--was to tell my acquaintance to throw his shoulders back, to make himself feel sexy to himself, to go to practice nautilus at some gym. "Look in the mirror and like what you see," I begged, "and you'll get energy through exercise that'll make you sexy to yourself." Next, I told him to open his mind to new vistas. " I want you to know that you don't need a witness, a married spouse, to attest to your good worth," I told him. "You're worthy, whether you're with or without a partner."

As usual I recommended Walt Whitman, but fearing he might need something shorter, I insisted he study Kahlil Gibran's, "The Prophet," which had been one of Lige's favorite books. He looked at me, frowning. "My Ex told me to read that but I never did," he said, "Maybe I should."

"Then do it now," I pleaded, "and absorb each word and make it a natural part of your thoughts." I recited what Lige had so passionately recited to me so many years before, a discourse on marriage:

Love one another, but make not a bond of love.
Let it be rather a moving sea between the shores of your souls
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

________________________________________________________________________ Jack Nichols' new book, "The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists," has been published by Prometheus Books. ________________________________________________________________________

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