Stonewall Experiment; A gay psychohistory'
Cassell UK/USA 1995, 312 pages
FROM THE AUTHOR:
is a study of human motivations. It involves the analysis of archival
records and other cultural artefacts in an attempt to uncover the
beliefs, fears, fantasies and desires of individual and social groups.
This book is a psychohistory of gay men. As it has been written
from the perspective of the 1990s, it is also, necessarily, a cultural
investigation into the origins of a plague.
In the unconscious
mind - the realm of dreams, trance, intuition and prophecy - certain
patterns of thought and belief are shared, to varying degrees, by
society at large, and by members of specific social and psychic
groups. These ideas exercise a profound influence on us, and on
the consequences of our actions.
Experiment presents evidence for some of these ideas as they have
inhabited the collective psyche of gay men during the past 125 years.
It examines the myths, images, texts and behaviors of the 'gay culture',
and exposes their historical significance.
James Hillman reminds us that historical events 'are not the primary
fact of existence. Historical facts are secondary... senseless unless
they point inward to central meanings. The historical "facts"
may be but fantasies attached to and sprouting from central archetypal
cores... ' The sprouts, it seems, are our image of ourselves, and
our modern uneasiness with history may reflect a fear of discovering
who we are, or who we have been induced to imagine we are.
and the patterns of behavior they influence, are strongly susceptible
to manipulation by symbols, pictures, suggestions and covert signals.
This manipulation can come directly from itself, or from others;
its effects can be positive or negative. When positive, it can achieve
the personal catharsis and transformation of magical or artistic
creation. When negative, it can constitute psychological programming,
subliminal propaganda or black magic.
As much as
possible, I have tried to document what I have to say by reference
to the public record, and particularly to what I call the gay archive
- the store of gay history, lore, poetry, prophecy, imagery and
imagination that is the psychic inheritance of what Christopher
Isherwood called 'our tribe', and of every gay man who comes to
awareness of himself.
are not a history of homosexuality, the gay movement, or the health
crisis; they are not meant to be comprehensive or exhaustive. They
are the notes and reflections of a poet who was involved in the
gay liberation movement during the years between the Stonewall rebellion
in 1969 and the onset of AIDS in 1981. As a poet, I have a particular
interest in images, verbal messages and the psychic undercurrents
- the unconsious myths and motivations that are reflected by cultural
phenomena, and that frequently determine events. The discovery and
elucidation of this cultural evidence is what I mean by psychohistory.
is to contribute something to our understanding of what occurred
in the little more than a decade between Stonewall and AIDS and
in the plague years that followed. What happened to the promise
of the Stonewall revolution? Perhaps (like all revolutions, some
would say) it was betrayed. If so, the nature of that betrayal was
rooted both in the revolution itself and in the society that give
rise to it. As one philosopher put it, 'If [people] make their own
history... they do not make it just as they please; they do not
make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances...
given and transmitted from the past.'
As I write,
the plague that descended on us in 1981 is still with us. A generation
of young gay men has never known life without its presence. And
though there are a number of developments, both hopeful and sinister,
there is no end in sight. No one yet possesses the whole picture
of this crisis. But we are now able to put some pieces of the puzzle
together, and to begin to discern something of its of its general
then, is a poet's-eye view of the first 125 years of our visible
existences -- the years when gay men began to emerge as a people.
It is written with a particular reader in mind: a young gay man
(or whatever term he chooses for himself) of a future generation.
Whoever he is, and whatever his circumstances, if he is to survive,
thrive, and make his contribution, he will need to understand his
history, and learn its lessons. This book is for him (speckled and
dusty though it may be by the time it reaches him). Other readers,
of course, are welcome, but they should remember that they are reading
over his shoulder.