Archive for the 5. MY GAY 1970s Category

MY GAY 1970s

Posted in 5. MY GAY 1970s on July 5, 2010 by Richard Berkowitz

What was New York City like during the scandalous, hedonist, gay 1970s?  In this section I want to recapture—and honor—what coming out in the 1970s was like, my sexual and political awakening, my friends and lovers, and the urban gay male subculture.  In short, Gay Oz.

In 1973, at age 17, I entered Rutgers University and became the Film Editor for the student newspaper (Targum), which sponsored my trips to NYC to cover the burgeoning LGBT arts.  I remember the excitement of seeing John Waters’ films at midnight shows at the Waverly Theater (Now IFC) in Greenwich Village where complete strangers passed joints to each other in the dark—without any fear of arrest, leaving notes for Bette Midler on her stoop on Barrow Street in an attempt to interview her, and seeing Divine live on stage at the Truck and Warehouse Theater.  I remember a time of ‘live and let live’, when sexual freedom ruled the day and fueled the arts.  To begin, I’m posting some of my writing which, for me, is how it all began.

Recently, while lamenting the loss of my closest gay male friends and lovers to a longtime friend, she asked me to re-think my assumption that if my late friends had survived, that I would still be close to them.  Don’t people change over time?  Well yes, we all do, and it was a painful thought to ponder.  Was I stuck in a past of what might have been?

But then it struck me:  This friend and I have been as close as most brothers and sisters I know since we met at my first job in NYC in 1978.  At that same job, I met another one of my lifelong sisters, Maria, with whom I’ve only grown closer to over the past 32 years.  Then there’s my pro-sex feminist guru and close lesbian friend Abby, who lives a few blocks from me.  We met in 1983, and see each other all the time. Then there’s Babs, the feminist “fag hag” I wrote about in Stayin’ Alive (p. 22-23) who helped me come out in 1974. We talk all the time.  There’s also my close friend Norma who appears in SEX POSITIVE, and my friend Ronni from Rutgers in the 1970s who’s always there when I need her.   And Kim, my neighbor since the 90s who lives downstairs; we’re so close people in our neighborhood think we’re married!

And so what I’ve concluded, is that yes, I have a history of loyal, long-term friendships that for me expand my definition of family, and there’s no reason for me to assume that if I had not lost my gay friends and lovers to AIDS, that my life would be even more fuller than it is.

And so, in this section, I want to also honor my fallen friends who made coming out in the 1970s the joy that it was.  I know a lot of gay men whose circle of gay male friends were decimated by AIDS; and so, in addition to recapturing what was good and revolutionary and exhilarating about those disco days of  feminist revolt, “Black is Beautiful” LGBT liberation and sexual exuberance, I also want to remember the gay men I lost and the love they left behind.

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My review/mini–interview of Holly Woodlawn’s nightclub act, 1975.

Bette Midler’s reply to my interview request. A frenemy stole my original copy.

My interview with Village Voice columnist, Arthur Bell, and Vito Russo, author of The Celluloid Closet, April 1976.

“Simply Divine,” Off-Broadway review of Women Behind Bars, December, 1976.

“What This Country Needs is a Good Gay Hero,” Gay News (Philadelphia), Cleveland Gay News, Lib Magazine (Long Island, NY), 1977.

“Cruising: Or How I Spent my Summer Vacation,” a report on the volatile protests against William Friedkin’s movie Cruising, The Independent, October 1979.

“Peer Panel Gagged at WNET,” a report on attempts to censor a lesbian comedy short film at WNET, The Independent, December, 1979.