Harry Hay and all the other queer outsiders

Michael Bronski has written a sharp essay on the real Harry Hay and his "uneasy relationship with the gay movement."

Hay believed that "queer sexuality had an essential outsider quality that made the outcast homosexual the perfect prophet for a heterosexual world lost in strict gender roles, enforced reproductive sexuality, and numbingly straitjacketed social personae."

During [the seventies], Hay spoke out against what he saw as the increasing conservatism of the gay-and-lesbian movement. As he saw it, the gay — and now, lesbian — movement was far more interested in electing homosexuals to government positions than in making the government responsible to the needs of its people. It was more interested in making sure that gay people were represented in commercial television and films than in critiquing the ways mass culture destroyed the human spirit. It was too interested in making strategic alliances with conservative politicians, rather than exposing how most politicians were working hand in glove with bloodless, destructive corporations.
After he founded the Radical Faeries in 1979 ("something of a cross between born-again queers and in-your-face frontline shock troops practicing gender-fuck drag"), the movement as a whole treated him as a "benign crackpot," when it did not ignore him altogether. Gays, no less than all other Americans, could stomach his long history of involvement with the American Communist Party and political radicalism in general, but he seemed to irritate everyone with his persistent support of the right of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) to be represented in the movement.
Even many of Hay’s more dedicated supporters could not side with him on this. But from Hay’s point of view, silencing any part of the movement because it was disliked or hated by mainstream culture was both a moral failing and a seriously mistaken political strategy. In Harry’s eyes, such a stance failed to grapple seriously with the reality that there would always be some aspect of the gay movement to which mainstream culture would object.


In death, though, Harry Hay’s critics have finally been able to do what they couldn’t do when he was alive: make him presentable [witness the laudatory press releases and eulogies even from the institutions most antithetical to his life's work]. . . . But it’s important to remember Hay — with all his contradictions, his sometimes crackpot notions, and his radiant, ecstatic, vision of the holiness of being queer — as he lived. For in his death, Harry Hay is becoming everything he would have raged against.

I was just researching the street I live on and found out that Harry Hay and John Burnside lived on the same street. I guess the caravan left from here to start across the country. Do you know what address they lived at?

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Published on October 31, 2002 10:53 AM.

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