An exclusive formal ball will mark Halloween in San Francisco this week. In couturier gowns and elaborately confected masquerades, the couples will whisk around the floor until 2 a.m., while judges award prizes for the best costumes and the participants elect an "Empress." By then the swirling belles will sound more and more deep-voiced, and in the early morning hours dark stubble will sprout irrepressibly through their Pan-Cake Make-Up. The celebrators are all homosexuals, and each year since 1962 the crowd at the annual "Beaux Arts Ball" has grown larger. Halloween is traditionally boys' night out, and similar events will take place in Los Angeles, New York, Houston and St. Louis.
Though they still seem fairly bizarre to most Americans, homosexuals have never been so visible, vocal or closely scrutinized by research. They throw public parties, frequent exclusively "gay" bars (70 in San Francisco alone), and figure sympathetically as the subjects of books, plays and films. Encouraged by the national climate of openness about sex of all kinds and the spirit of protest, male and female inverts have been organizing to claim civil rights for themselves as an aggrieved minority.
Their new militancy makes other citizens edgy, and it can be shrill. Hurling rocks and bottles and wielding a parking meter that had been wrenched out of the sidewalk, homosexuals rioted last summer in New York's Greenwich Village after police closed one of the city's 50 all-gay bars and clubs on an alleged liquor-law violation. Pressure from militant self-styled "homophiles" has forced political candidates' views about homosexuality into recent election campaigns in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Homosexuals have picketed businesses, the White House and the Pentagon, demanding an end to job discrimination and the right to serve in the Army without a dishonorable discharge if their background is discovered.
Some 50 homophile organizations have announced their existence in cities across the country and on at least eight campuses. Best known are the Mattachine societies (named for 16th century Spanish masked court jesters), and the Daughters of Bilitis (after French Poet Pierre Louys' The Songs of Bilitis, a 19th century series of lyrics glorifying lesbian love). W. Dorr Legg, educational director at Los Angeles' 17-year-old ONE, Inc., claims, "I won't be happy until all churches give homosexual dances and parents are sitting in the balcony saying 'Don't John and Henry look cute dancing together?' " Radical groups such as the Gay Liberation Front chant "Gay power" and "Gay is good" and turgidly call for "the Revolution of Free and Frequent Polysexuality."
Last week's report to the National Institute of Mental Health (TIME, Oct. 24) urged legalization of private homosexual acts between adults who agree to them. It was the latest sign that the militants are finding grudging tolerance and some support in the "straight" community. The Federal Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., for example, has responded to a recent case by declaring that a governmental agency could not dismiss an employee without first proving that his homosexuality would palpably interfere with the efficiency of the agency's operations. The New York Times, which for years shied from the word homosexual, in June permitted a homosexual writing under his own name, Freelance Critic Donn Teal, to contribute an article on "gay" themes in theater. In large cities, homosexuals have reached tacit agreements with police that give them the de facto right to their own social life.
Homosexual organizations across the country run discussion groups and record hops. A San Francisco group known as S.I.R. (Society for Individual Rights) organizes ice-skating parties, chess clubs and bowling leagues. Nor is it necessary for a homosexual to join a homophile organization to enjoy a full social life: homosexuals often are the parlor darlings of wealthy ladies ("fag hags"). Marriage in these circles can involve a homosexual and a busy career woman who coolly take the vows for companionship—and so that they can pool their incomes and tax benefits for a glittering round of entertaining.
SEDUCTION AND SODOMY
Homosexuals with growing frequency have sought the anonymity and comparative permissiveness of big cities. It is this concentration of homosexuals in urban neighborhoods rather than any real growth in their relative numbers that has increased their visibility and made possible their assertiveness. According to the Kinsey reports, still the basic source for statistics on the subject, 10% of American men have long periods of more or less exclusive homosexuality; only 4% (2% of women) are exclusively homosexual all their lives. These may be inflated figures, but most experts think that the proportion of homosexuals in the U.S. adult population has not changed drastically since Kinsey did his survey, giving the country currently about 2,600,000 men and 1,400,000 women who are exclusively homosexual. Despite popular belief, these numbers are not substantially increased by seduction: most experts now believe that an individual's sex drives are firmly fixed in childhood.
Inevitably, the homosexual life has attracted eager entrepreneurs. A firm in Great Neck, N.Y., runs a computer-dating service for homosexuals; San Francisco's Adonis bookstore has some 360 different magazines on display that carry everything from lascivious photos of nude men to reports on the homophile movement and lovelorn advice by "Madame Soto-Voce." Police and homosexuals agree that operating a gay bar is still an occupation that often appeals to Mafiosi. In New York City, sleazy movie houses along Broadway now match their traditional offerings of cheesecake with "beefcake."
Off-Broadway producers have found that homosexuals will flock to plays about themselves. Yet most dramas about deviates are written for heterosexual audiences. The New York stage currently offers John Osborne's A Patriot for Me, Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band and John Herbert's Fortune and Men's Eyes, a 1967 drama about prison life. Revived last week in a new production, it has been rewritten so that a scene of forcible sodomy that used to take place out of the audience's sight is now grimly visible (though simulated). In movies, too, homosexuality is the vogue: Staircase, starring Rex Harrison and Richard Burton, Midnight Cowboy and Fellini's forthcoming Satyricon. On the lesbian side there are The Fox, Thérèse and Isabelle, and The Killing of Sister George.
The quality of these works ranges from excellent to nauseating. But it is a fact that treatment of the theme has changed. "Homosexuality used to be a sensational gimmick," says Playwright Crowley. "The big revelation in the third act was that the guy was homosexual, and then he had to go offstage and blow his brains out. It was associated with sin, and there had to be retribution." These days a movie or play can end, as Staircase does, with a homosexual couple still together or, as Boys in the Band winds up, with two squabbling male lovers trying desperately to save their relationship. Beyond that, the homosexual is a special kind of antihero; his emergence on center stage reflects the same sympathy for outsiders that has transformed oddballs and criminals from enemies into heroic rebels against society in such films as Bonnie and Clyde and Alice's Restaurant.
Is there a homosexual conspiracy afoot to dominate the arts and other fields? Sometimes it seems that way. The presence of talented homosexuals in the field of classical music, among composers, performers, conductors and management, has sometimes led to charges by disappointed outsiders that the music world is a closed circle. The same applies to the theater, the art world, painting, dance, fashion, hairdressing and interior design, where a kind of "homintern" exists: a gay boss will often use his influence to help gay friends. The process is not unlike the ethnic favoritism that prevails in some companies and in big-city political machines; with a special sulky twist, it can be vicious to outsiders. Yet homosexual influence has probably been exaggerated. The homosexual cannot go too far in foisting off on others his own preferences; the public that buys the tickets or the clothes is overwhelmingly heterosexual. Genuine talent is in such demand that entrepreneurs who pass it by on the grounds of sex preference alone may well suffer a flop or other damage to their own reputations.
THE DARK SIDE OF LOVE
Discrimination aside, what about the more indirect propagation of homosexual points of view? Homosexual taste can fall into a particular kind of self-indulgence as the homosexual revenges himself on a hostile world by writing grotesque exaggerations of straight customs, concentrates on superficial stylistic furbelows or develops a "campy" fetish for old movies. Somerset Maugham once said of the homosexual artist that "with his keen insight and quick sensibility, he can pierce the depths, but in his innate frivolity he fetches up from them not a priceless jewel but a tinsel ornament."
In many cases, including Maugham's own, that is an exaggeration. Indeed the talented homosexual's role as an outsider, far from disqualifying him from commenting on life, may often sharpen his insight and esthetic sensibility. From Sappho to Colette to Oscar Wilde and James Baldwin, homosexual authors have memorably celebrated love—and not always in homosexual terms. For example, W. H. Auden's Lullaby—"Lay your sleeping head, my love/Human on my faithless arm"—must rank as one of the 20th century's most exquisite love lyrics.
In recent years, writes Critic Benjamin DeMott, "the most intense accounts of domestic life and problems, as well as the few unembarrassedly passionate love poems, have been the work of writers who are not heterosexual . . . Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Genet and Auden. They have a steady consciousness of a dark side of love that is neither homo-nor heterosexual but simply human." New York Times Drama Critic Clive Barnes muses, "Creativity might be a sort of psychic disturbance itself, mightn't it? Artists are not particularly happy people anyway."
Despite the homosexual's position in the arts, it is easy to overestimate the acceptance he has achieved elsewhere. Most straight Americans still regard the invert with a mixture of revulsion and apprehension, to which some authorities have given the special diagnostic name of homosexual panic. A Louis Harris poll released last week reported that 63% of the nation consider homosexuals "harmful to American life," and even the most tolerant parents nervously watch their children for real or imagined signs of homosexuality, breathing sighs of relief when their boy or girl finally begins dating the opposite sex.
Such homophobia is based on understandable instincts among straight people, but it also involves innumerable misconceptions and oversimplifications. The worst of these may well be that all homosexuals are alike. In fact, recent research has uncovered a large variation among homosexual types. With some overlap, they include:
THE BLATANT HOMOSEXUAL.
Chaucer's Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales had a voice "small as a goat's. He had no beard nor ever would have, his face was as smooth as if lately shaven; I trow he were a mare or a gelding." This is the eunuch-like caricature of" femininity that most people associate with homosexuality. In the 1960s he may be the catty hairdresser or the lisping, limp-wristed interior decorator. His lesbian counterpart is the "butch," the girl who is aggressively masculine to the point of trying to look like a man. Blatants also include "leather boys," who advertise their sadomasochism by wearing leather jackets and chains, and certain transvestites, or "Tvs." (Other transvestites are not homosexuals at all and, while they enjoy dressing in female clothing, may also have women as sex partners.)
Actually, such stereotype "queers" are a distinct minority. Paul Gebhard, director of Alfred Kinsey's Institute for Sex Research, estimates that only around 10% of all homosexuals are immediately recognizable. Blatants often draw sneers from other homosexuals, and in fact many of them are only going through a phase. Having recently "come out"—admitted their condition and joined the homosexual world—they feel insecure in their new roles and try to re-create their personalities from scratch. Behaving the way they think gay people are supposed to behave, they too temporarily fall victim to the myth.
THE SECRET LIFER.
The other 90% of the nation's committed inverts are hidden from all but their friends, lovers, and occasionally, psychiatrists. Their wrists are rigid, their "s's" well formed; they prefer subdued clothes and close-cropped hair, and these days may dress more conservatively than flamboyant straights. Many wear wedding rings and have wives, children and employers who never know. They range across all classes, all races, all occupations. To lead their double lives these full or part-time homosexuals must "pass" as straight, and most are extremely skilled at camouflage. They can cynically tell —or at least smile at—jokes about "queers"; they fake enjoyment when their boss throws a stag party with nude movies.
THE DESPERATE. Members of this group are likely to haunt public toilets ("tearooms") or Turkish baths. They may be pathologically driven to sex but emotionally unable to face the slightest strains of sustaining a serious human relationship, or they may be married men who hope to conceal their need by making their contacts as anonymous as possible.
By contrast, they lead relatively conventional lives. They have a regular circle of friends and hold jobs, much like Los Angeles Businessman "Charles Eliott" or Manhattan Secretary "Rachel Porter," described on page 62. Their social lives generally begin at the gay bars or in rounds of private parties. Often they try to settle down with a regular lover, and although these liaisons are generally short-lived among men, some develop into so-called "gay marriages," like the 14-year union between Poets Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky.
Many married homosexuals are merely engaging in "alibi sex," faking enjoyment of intercourse with their wives. Some researchers, however, have found a number of men and women who have a definite preference for their own sex but engage in occasional activity with the opposite sex and enjoy it. The description of Julius Caesar's protean sex life probably contained a core of fact: "He was every man's wife and every woman's husband." (Caesar's wife was a different case.)
He is a man who engages in homosexual acts without any deep homosexual motivation. The two Kinsey reports found that almost 40% of white American males and 13% of females have some overt sexual experience to orgasm with a person of their own sex between adolescence and old age. Yet a careful analysis of the figures shows that most of these experiences are only temporary deviations. In prisons and occasionally in the armed forces, for example, no women are available. Thus the men frequently turn to homosexual contacts, some in order to reassert their masculinity and recapture a feeling of dominance.
The homosexual subculture, a semi-public world, is, without question, shallow and unstable. Researchers now think that these qualities, while inherent in many homosexuals, are also induced and inflamed by social pressures. The notion that homosexuals cause crime is a homophobic myth: studies of sex offenders show that homosexuals are no more likely to molest young children than are heterosexuals. Homosexuals are more likely to be victims of crime: Sociologists John Gagnon, of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and William Simon, of the Illinois Institute of Juvenile Research, in a recent survey of homosexuals found that only 10% of them had ever been arrested; by contrast, 10% had been blackmailed and over 25% had been robbed, frequently after being attacked and beaten.
Insecurity and promiscuity go hand in hand. One man told U.C.L.A. Researcher Evelyn Hooker that he had had relations with 1,500 different partners during a 15-year span. Since homosexual couples cannot comfortably meet in mixed company, the gay bars become impersonal "meat racks"—not unlike "swinger" bars for heterosexual singles—whose common denominator is little more than sex. Keeping a gay marriage together requires unusual determination, since the partners have no legal contract to stay together for worse or better; there are no children to focus the couple's concern.
The strain of the covert life shows clearly in brittle homosexual humor, which swings between a defensive mockery of the outside world and a self-hating scorn for the gay one. Recent research projects at the Indiana sex research institute and elsewhere have sought out homosexuals who are not troubled enough to come to psychiatrists and social workers and have found them no worse adjusted than many heterosexuals. Nonetheless, when 300 New York homosexuals were polled several years ago, only 2% said that they would want a son of theirs to be a homosexual. Homophile activists contend that there would be more happy homosexuals if society were more compassionate; still, for the time being at least, there is a savage ring of truth to the now famous line from The Boys in the Band: "Show me a happy homosexual, and I'll show you a gay corpse."
HOW AND WHY?
What leads to homosexuality? No one knows for sure, and many of the explanations seem overly simple and unnecessarily doctrinaire. Sociologist Gagnon says: "We may eventually conclude that there are as many causes for homosexuality as there are for mental retardation—and as many kinds of it." The only thing most experts agree on is that homosexuality is not a result of any kinky gene or hormone predispositions—at least none that can be detected by present techniques. Male and female homosexuals do not constitute a "third sex"; biologically, they are full men and women.
The reason that the invert's sex behavior is not dictated by his anatomy is related to a remarkable finding of sex researchers: no one becomes fully male or female automatically. The diverse psychological components of masculinity and femininity—"gender role identity"—are learned. Gender is like language, says Johns Hopkins University Medical Psychologist John Money: "Genetics ordains only that language can develop, not whether it will be Nahuatl, Arabic or English."
This does not mean that homosexuality is latent in all mature humans, as has been widely believed from a misreading of Freud. In American culture, sex roles are most powerfully determined in the home, and at such a young age (generally in the first few years of life) that the psychological identity of most homosexuals—like that of most heterosexuals—is set before they know it. In the case of homosexuality, parents with emotional problems can be a powerful cause, leaving their child without a solid identification with the parent of the same sex and with deeply divided feelings for the parent of the opposite sex. In an exhaustive study of homosexuals in therapy, a group of researchers headed by Psychoanalyst Irving Bieber observed that a large number of homosexuals came from families where the father was either hostile, aloof or ineffectual and where the mother was close-binding and inappropriately intimate (CBI in scientific jargon). Bieber's wife, Psychologist Toby Bieber, has found many of the same patterns in the parents of lesbians, although in reverse.
Yet scientists have begun to realize that the homosexual hang-up is not exclusively homemade. For one thing, social pressures can unbalance parents' child-raising practices. Marvin Opler, an anthropologist trained in psychoanalysis who teaches at the State University of New York at Buffalo, says that Western culture generally, and the U.S. in particular, puts such a high premium on male competition and dominance that men easily become afraid that they are not measuring up, and take out their frustrations by being hostile to their sons.
The accepted notion that boys and girls should ignore each other until puberty and then concentrate heavily on dating can also distort parental attitudes. If a mother catches a little boy playing doctor with a little girl under the porch and tells him he has been bad, says Gebhard, she may be subtly telling him that sex with girls is bad: "Anything that discourages heterosexuality encourages homosexuality." If an uptight parent or teacher catches an impressionable adolescent boy in sexual experiments with other boys and leaps to the conclusion that he is a homosexual, the scoldings he gets may make him freeze up with girls in another way. He may start to think that if everyone considers him a homosexual, he must be one. Many schools compound the problem by enshrining the supermale and overemphasizing sports. The inevitable peer group yelling "Sissy!" at the drop of a fly ball can also start the long and complicated process by which a boy can come to think of himself as "different."
So potent is the power of suggestion, says Psychologist Evelyn Hooker, that one male need never have been sexually aroused by another to begin thinking of himself as gay. The unathletic, small, physically attractive youth is particularly prone to being singled out for "sissyhood," and authorities agree that it is this social selection rather than anything genetic that makes homosexuality somewhat more common among so-called "pretty boys."
Most experts agree that a child will not become a homosexual unless he undergoes many emotionally disturbing experiences during the course of several years. A boy who likes dolls or engages in occasional homosexual experiments is not necessarily "queer": such activities are often a normal part of growing up. On the other hand, a child who becomes preoccupied with such interests or is constantly ill at ease with the opposite sex obviously needs some form of psychiatric counseling. While only about one-third of confirmed adult inverts can be helped to change, therapists agree that a much larger number of "prehomosexual" children can be treated successfully.
CHANGING SEXUAL ROLES
A more elusive question is whether or to what extent homosexuality and acceptance of it may be symptoms of social decline. For varying reasons, homosexual relations have been condoned and at times even encouraged among certain males in many primitive societies that anthropologists have studied. However, few scholars have been able to determine that homosexuality had any effect on the functioning of those cultures. At their fullest flowering, the Persian, Greek, Roman and Moslem civilizations permitted a measure of homosexuality; as they decayed, it became more prevalent. Sexual deviance of every variety was common during the Nazis' virulent and corrupt rule of Germany.
Homosexuality was also common in Elizabethan England's atmosphere of wholesale permissiveness. Yet the era not only produced one of the most robust literary and intellectual outpourings the world has ever known but also laid the groundwork for Britain's later imperial primacy—during which time homosexuality became increasingly stigmatized.
In the U.S. today, homosexuality has scarcely reached the proportions of a symptom of widespread decadence (though visitors sometimes wonder as they observe the lounging male whores on New York's Third Avenue or encounter male couples embracing effusively in public parks). Still, the acceptance or rejection of homosexuality does raise questions about the moral values of the society: its hedonism, its concern with individual "identity." The current conceptions of what causes homosexuality also pose a fundamental challenge to traditional ideas about the proper role to be played by all men and women. In recent years, Americans have learned that a man need not be a Met pitcher or suburban Don Juan to be masculine: the most virile male might well be a choreographer or a far-out artist. Similarly, as more and more women become dissatisfied with their traditional roles, Americans may better understand that a female can hold a highly competitive job—or drive a truck—without being forced to sacrifice her sexuality or the satisfactions of child rearing. A nation that softens the long and rigid separation of roles for men and women is also less likely to condemn the homosexual and confine him to a netherworld existence.
MORALITY AND TOLERANCE
The case for greater tolerance of homosexuals is simple. Undue discrimination wastes talents that might be working for society. Police harassment, which still lingers in many cities and more small towns, despite a growing live-and-let-live attitude, wastes manpower and creates unnecessary suffering. The laws against homosexual acts also suggest that the nation cares more about enforcing private morality than it does about preventing violent crime. To be sure, it is likely that a more permissive atmosphere might convince many people, particularly adolescents, that a homosexual urge need not be resisted since the condition would, after all, be "respectable." On the other hand, greater tolerance might mitigate extreme fear of not being able to live up to exaggerated standards of heterosexual performance—and might thus reduce the number of committed homosexuals.
A violently argued issue these days is whether the confirmed homosexual is mentally ill. Psychoanalysts insist that homosexuality is a form of sickness; most homosexuals and many experts counter that the medical concept only removes the already fading stigma of sin, and replaces it with the charge—even more pejorative nowadays—that homosexuality is pathological. The answers will importantly influence society's underlying attitude (see TIME symposium). While homosexuality is a serious and sometimes crippling maladjustment, research has made clear that it is no longer necessary or morally justifiable to treat all inverts as outcasts. The challenge to American society is simultaneously to devise civilized ways of discouraging the condition and to alleviate the anguish of those who cannot be helped, or do not wish to be.
Time Magazine (1969)...