By Karl Spahn
Dec. 3, 1971, Oberlin Review
Karl Spahn is a freshman and an active member of Gay Liberation —Ed.
There have been a number of letters and articles in the Review this year concerning gay Liberation. But most of these had an aura of controversy about then [sic], and only a very few dealt directly with the organization itself. This sort of coverage has, I suspect, made us seem a bit remote and mysterious. To modify this somewhat impersonal image. [sic] I would like to give a very personal account of how Gay Lib has helped one of its members—myself.
I arrived at Oberlin with a strong feeling of apprehension, for I was completely at a loss to know what my social life would be like. This mightn’t have been so unusual but for the complicating factor of my homosexuality. At that time, only three others knew of this problem: my parents and my therapist. Telling even these few people had cost me a great effort. If, as this seemed to indicate, I was so uptight about revealing my homosexuality, how could I face living for four years in Oberlin with this “deadly secret” fearing its discovery at any time? I felt the dread of the inevitable. It was Gay Lib that made the “inevitable” not only not dreadful but a truly liberating experience.
The first meeting of Oberlin College Gay Liberation was announced for mid-September. After a grim struggle with myself, I decided to go. To my everlasting astonishment, I found it perfectly easy, once there. As is often the case, the first step was by far the hardest. My courage was tested again and again after that first meeting; but each time my fear was lessened, even as the test grew tougher; openly associating with other Gay Lib members in the Wilder main lobby; asking at the main desk for the key to the G.L. office; dancing with other boys at the G.L. dance; mentioning my membership in G.L. to a friend; selling cupcakes at the G.L. bake sale; etc., etc. Through all of this I consistently tried to confront each situation gracefully and with a maximum of goodnaturedness, dignity and poise. I refused to be embarrassed for I knew that to show uneasiness would make the other person even more uncomfortable and the situation might rapidly deteriorate. I simply accepted the fact that it was up to me to make the extra effort at friendliness. I think that doing this helped remind people that homos are human afterall and that, indeed, they can even be nice people.
Well, practice makes perfect, and by refusing to indulge my embarrassment I have arrived at the point where it is really true that I hardly give a second thought to activities such as those listed above. This is remarkable progress. I would say, for just two months; and it is due to what I like to think of as a benign cycle of therapy; the more I do for Gay Liberation, the more it does for me by making me less uptight about publicly acknowledging my homosexuality.
How have I been rewarded for my candor? Mostly with simple indifferences and never with open hostility. What negative response I have been able to detect is that of a certain coldness and distance, but this has only been from people I didn’t know to begin with. I most assuredly have not been insulted or assaulted by anyone. Isn’t that just good fortune on my part? Perhaps, but I like to think that two other factors are responsible. First, it is my impression that the Oberlin community is basically pretty tolerant of homosexuality (after all, there is enough of it around). Secondly, my handling of the matter—as detailed above—seems to have disarmed hostility. Whatever the explanation, it should be clear from this that openly declaring one’s homosexuality isn’t always fraught with direst danger and that it needn’t even be especially traumatic.
Start with yourself
I have learned many things from all of this. One is that in despite my attachment to a rather militant variety of civil-libertarianism, I see now that militancy is not appropriate for Gay Liberation in Oberlin. What we must combat here are not the hangups of the community so much as the hangups of homosexuals themselves, for these latter persist in full force even in a relatively tolerant social environment.
Well, must I press the point? If someone as shy and introverted as I can do it, so can others. If, perchance, you are homosexual or have homosexual tendencies anl [sic] are unhappy because of it, for God’s sake do something about it. Stop going through all kinds of hell over such an unimportant thing. I know what that’s like, and it’s a bad scene. And if, as I was, you are already intellectually convinced that there is really nothing at all terrible about having somewhat unusual sexual preferences and are only held back by external considerations, then your battle is half won. I strongly urge you to try to at least screw up your courage enough to come to a Gay Lib meeting some Sunday night. Even if you sit there and say nothing for an hour and a half (which is exactly what I did at my first meeting) the experience will be extremely beneficial. You will be unmasking yourself in the sympathetic and understanding company of others who share your inclinations. It will be much easier than you think. For those who do have serious hangups about homosexuality, I cannot give advice from experience but I recommend the Gay Lib counseling service (which will be established soon) as a means of getting to talk with someone on a personal and strictly confidential basis. I think that just talking with someone is very important, for it does only harm to brood one’s heart out in loneliness.
The homosexual has nothing to fear but fear itself; other people’s, true, but more impontantly [sic], his own.