Lee Stern: Hearing these different stories, I don’t feel like I was really politicized at Oberlin. I was probably more politicized afterwards. I had not dealt with my sexuality at all before I came to Oberlin, and probably there was something that drew me here intuitively to have a place where I could be comfortable, slowly unfold. I wasn’t involved with LGBU; I went to some meetings and, of course, the dances, but it was really the other people around.
Douglas Brewster: For me, I was like Lee; when I came here I didn’t have a clue, but for me it was the openness, for the first time in my life seeing openly gay people and admiring them. I had never experienced that growing up in Indiana. I mean, there were no gay people living in the town I grew up in that were open about it. So coming here to Oberlin where there were people who were open about it, there wasn’t this total sense of isolation that if I were to be gay, then I was to be the only gay man in the world. I think that was the really liberating thing. Also, to have a community that was pretty accepting was the other part of it. On most levels of gay people and lesbians with my heterosexual peers, I really didn’t come across homophobia; I mean, except on a very subtle level, and, in general, people were very open. It was funny, I had to counteract my own homophobia, because I wasn’t that comfortable with it for most of the time I was here at Oberlin. But I felt I had both the time and the support to do that, and I really appreciated that. And just to be able to identify somebody and know that they were a gay person — that they were out — I think was the most powerful thing.
Kristan Knapp: Well, this is interesting because it reminds me about the beginning of the women’s movement, too, and about some of the perhaps grand ideas that I had at that time about creating a society of egalitarian relationships or relationships not based on power but based on love and caring and skill-sharing. Ideas like that could be in some way attributed to the atmosphere that Oberlin had provided for me. I tend to think of this as feminism, you know, but maybe it is a peculiar form of feminism. I think that I did find feminists who did have other ideas and ideals about how they wanted the world to be. But, also, I think, where did these ideas come from?
Tony Stafford: I think things like the Conservatory, the work of a musician, the work of an artist — it’s like a dance, like a choreography. The whole major of art is very level. It always comes down to physically what you can do. The reality that it defines is always in conflict with the reality of the rest of the world, of its strictures so imposing. So this thing is stripping away, I think with my education at Oberlin; I feel like stripping away and without Oberlin other people do not have that experience. I mean, most of the gays I met were torn out by very painful methods and this idea of egalitarianism had very little to do with them.
Raymond Harvey: I have a question to the whole crowd. I wonder who here can remember any committed couple relationships of fellow students while you were here?
Kristan Knapp: Well, I’m the oldest one here, so let me say when I was here I was not out. I myself wasn’t aware, like many of you, of my sexuality before I came here and I found this place to be so het, like, was there a choice? I mean, in my mind, I guess I was just so naive. The whole concept of gay had not occurred to me. Now, senior year my roommate at Harkness, who was graduating a semester early, said to me, “If we’re not both married by the time we’re thirty, let’s live together and be lesbians.” She actually said that to me. And, you know, the word `lesbian,’ I don’t know that I’d ever heard it before. I said, “Sure.” I loved this woman. After graduation I went to Cuba and I really met some lesbians, and then it really made sense. You know, but I was from Oregon, not from a major city. I was a farm sort of person. I grew up in wheat fields and asparagus patches; I did, at least, know what cows looked like. Freshman year I went on a bike ride with this guy, a friend of mine who had grown up in the Bronx. He’d never seen a cow before, and I just about died laughing when he said, “Do you think I could go over and pet this cow?”
Raymond Harvey: The reason I asked that question was again we’re all looking at Oberlin from our own perspectives while we were here. And being in the Conservatory, I mean, let’s face it; you’re in a very theatrical, campy world. What I saw mostly as gay people were these very flamboyant, fun-loving, you know, out-type people. And I didn’t see a lot of couple commitments; I didn’t see a lot of sincerity. I didn’t see a lot of that. And while I was here — I came out my junior year — I locked right into a very committed relationship through my junior, senior, and fifth years here, and we didn’t have any role models. I mean, we knew we were committed to each other, but we didn’t see anyone else doing what we were doing, and I think that we struggled a lot because everyone else was just sort of campy and having fun. And that wasn’t what we were about.
Tony Stafford: […] My experience at Oberlin was mainly with heterosexual men and bisexual relationships; in fact, I knew very few men who were completely gay. All of my relationships, very intense relationships, were with men who were heterosexual and who are now married bankers and lawyers with children. But for all of them, the homosexual relationship is extremely liberated; they are not what they appear to be, in other words, and they are not hypocrites. They are higher forms of individuals, so my concept of homosexuality at Oberlin is about the possibility of losing the title of your sexuality. It is always a possibility that one day you could be this and you could be that. I mean, I assumed that one day I would get married; I just assumed that it was the natural progression of humanity. You know, I still believe that.
Kristan Knapp: You know, I think if you live long enough, if you can resist the impetus of society to box you in, and you’re fortunate enough to meet people who are open, you can do anything.
Karen Dennis: Yeah, I had gone to Middlebury College for one year, and that was a school with fraternities. It’s a school where the upperclass send their children. Mine is the first generation of my family ever to go to college. You know, the jump-up, improved-working-class Brooklyn background. So for me Middlebury was like, “Oh, my God, what do I do?” I had heard about Oberlin, that it was a place opposed to the war, where women went who were trying to remake the world. I actually did not know that it was a gay school, though by that point I was sort of admitting to myself that there were some things about my sexuality that were inconstant. I came here with the firm determination to come out and the determination to rethink my relationships with my own sexuality, with other people.
I think a lot of people here were doing that. A lot of people said, “I’m gay.” In fact, I had relationships with both men and women. When I identify myself as gay, it’s that part that nobody wants to think about. That is one of the reasons why, when I heard they put the word `bisexual’ in the name of the Gay Union, I thought to myself, “Well, isn’t that kind of retrogressive?” At that time, many of us were saying, “I’m a gay woman, as well as being lesbian, because I’m affirming to myself that there is something about me that you just can’t box, and being gay is visionary and cheerful and wonderful.” I can remember people walking up to me saying, “So-and-so just said to me, I’ve never met a happy homosexual.” Well, how do you respond to that? “I have?” “I am?” Or “What the hell? Have you ever met a happy heterosexual? What does that mean? I am not a `homosexual,’ you are not a `heterosexual,’ and I am not always happy, but by God I intend to be gay!”