John Wiecking: The only article in the Review that I can recall — this probably says more about me than about the Review — which addressed that issue was a contribution from a student at Afro House. The burden of his statement was that a Black man could not be a homosexual, could not be gay, because that was a corruption derived from western imperialism — AmeriKa, which they spelled with a capital K at that point. It is a pity that no one was able to come back with a response. I don’t remember any response to that. It was a pity that nobody felt free enough in any part of the community as far as I can recall.
Karen Dennis: No, there was a response. Alan, whose last name I won’t give you, who lived in the African-Heritage House, had some pretty horrible things happen to him, including a dead chicken being left outside of his room. He wrote a very, very moving reply in which he talked about misperceptions of a gay man in the Black community.
Tony Stafford: But even more than that, with the administration, the federal funding was very specific about how the whole system was about manipulating Black males into certain situations, and these situations were heterosexual situations. And if you were homosexual you were wasting the space and the resources that were being invested in you. At the same time you were saying to the Black community, “Well, you see, every community is affected, and, of course, being gay will affect it.” Bullshit! I never asked the Black community to accept my homosexuality. I never forced it down their throat. It was something I kept to myself, but when they came and when they said, “You must change your ways,” I found that such a strange thing, because these people living in Afro House at that moment were fighting against becoming gentrified into the white Oberlin community. So I didn’t understand. They must have known how impossible what they were asking was, but there was no discussion. They said, “You must change and you must change now,” to all Blacks on this campus. I always thought of marching together, all the Black homosexuals, and marching down to Afro House.
Karen Dennis: Well, as women — and lesbian women — at this time, I think that we were also confronted historically with the same situation, which was that you are asked by your ‘in group’ to conform to certain standards. I was a target of this in a discussion group; another woman was getting active in the gay community, who had just read Ti-Grace Atkinson’s Amazon Odyssey, which clearly outlines to some people the political hierarchy of collaborators, oppressors, and the oppressed and those who were rebels. Ti-Grace had made this wonderful little list of the different types of women; male-identified and, you know, the difference between a gay woman — a lot of us were still calling ourselves gay women at that time — and a lesbian woman. This other woman in the group was dissing me in a roundabout way, but it was evident to everyone else in the group that she was describing me as this `male-identified gay woman.’ I said to myself, “Male-identified? Now, get down!” But it was the same woman who asked me not long after that, and started repeatedly asking me, “When are you going to get your hair cut?” The last few years I had let it grow back again, and it was long and it was bushy, and she was telling me that lesbian women do not have long curly hair; they have short butch haircuts. I understood that some of that was, in effect, a veiled claim about my attempting to pass, which was to me hilarious.
Kristan Knapp: Well, we kind of started this discussion with a question of role models, and I do still think there were no role models here in 1966-1970. Perhaps I was so naive or so isolated that I couldn’t see them, but the more I think about it, they just weren’t here. I know freshman year there was one woman who had a single in Dascomb, and somebody must have talked about her, somebody thought she was a little strange or something, but I didn’t even get it enough to understand that maybe she was a lesbian. I didn’t get that and there was nobody to ask. The only feminist women I knew of were two women who did not wear bras. This was when women stopped wearing bras, and they were weird; they were just strange. We didn’t understand who they were, what they were about.
Raymond Harvey: You know, something that was said last night I think is appropriate here, about the fact that because Oberlin does not have a graduate program and doesn’t have graduate students, there is not that older student component of life on this campus.
Kristan Knapp: That more settled person.
Raymond Harvey: Right, and I think that if this were a school that had graduate students then you would have that twenty-two to twenty-four to twenty-five-year-old group who find themselves much more aware. I think you would find some role models. The other thing I think is that, at least when I was a student here, we didn’t have very much contact with the faculty outside the classroom. So I didn’t know what kinds of relationships or role models these faculty might have provided.
Kristan Knapp: There were some graduate students who came here; I was just remembering this morning that I was involved in the group, sort of an encounter group. There were graduate students from Ann Arbor who came down here to lead seminars and workshops — weekend things, and we would sequester ourselves in these very rooms. You know, finally an incident occurred in one of these; I thought it was wonderful. We were all learning to love each other — I am not sure what we did really, but I remember there was one sort of exercise that we did about wrestling. We wrestled with each other and this one man who was in my circle of dining friends, a kind of strange guy, grabbed me, and wrestled me to the ground in such a way with my hands back and him sitting on top of me. And I just freaked out; I really went absolutely crazy, started screaming and fighting to get up. Finally he realized that he should let go of me. But nobody dealt with that. Nobody had any insight into what this might be about or anything. It was never, ever addressed in any way. And nothing came up about gays in that, even though we were all touching and caring men and women, and we were trying to get in touch with our feelings.
Tony Stafford: My role models actually were upperclass Conservatory students. I started dancing because there was a January workshop “Contacting Improvisation.” I couldn’t get into the video workshop so I ended up saying, “Well, I guess maybe I’ll do this since I’m here.” Also, at that point, I didn’t realize how physically high-strung I was. What happened was I went into the workshop and it was amazing, but also there was a certain place in the workshop where something snapped. I left the section that day horny as hell, but it was more than that. It was like everything was falling apart. I came backstage and looked at the people who were doing the workshop like Marc Beckerman ‘74. All of these beautiful boys and beautiful women had a very secret relationship, a very secret physical relationship that was very intense, that was very impenetrable, and I wanted that. I wanted to know how they could be so secure. From that moment on they became this beacon. No matter what happened on campus I would always refer to these people, because they seemed calm. They seemed balanced; they didn’t seem neurotic.
I must say that after high school, Oberlin was a very neurotic place; unsaid things, people reacting in strange ways. And at the gay dances, people would dream, and they would sigh and they would go off. They were just as neurotic, I now realize, but they were role models. In the Conservatory, it was the upperclass musicians, the very calm, the last-year musicians. It was the very calmness about what they were doing that I admired. But as far as couples go, I did not know it at the time. There were, in fact, couples, but I was not conscious of those relationships; I didn’t know.
Douglas Brewster: I think as far as couples on the campus, they weren’t as out. First of all they weren’t, generally in most cases, the couples that I knew, weren’t politically involved, so they weren’t as visible. The other part of being at Oberlin, the academic pressure was so intense there really wasn’t time to be a couple, to be in a relationship in that way and really work on building that, at least for many of us. I have a great admiration for the people who were successful, because I tried off and on for three of the years that I was here, with limited success. So that is sort of my perspective on it, that many of the gay couples were invisible, unfortunately; that it was also a very difficult place to be a couple.
Karen Dennis: I think that might have been sex-related, because during my years here I can recall a whole sweep of women who were couples, and, in some cases, it was more of an indication if they broke up. It’s that famous old joined-at-the-hip-itis routine that a lot of lesbians get into. But it was also the time, I think, where there was much less emphasis placed on monogamous relationships. A lot of us felt that was politically incorrect. The sexual revolution to some extent must have created intolerable pressures, especially for men. Couple formation and the social skills that were required to do it was not what they teach you from childhood on. (Laughter) I think the other women in the room will agree with me; we get intensive socialization in dealing with other people, and we are told that the responsibility is on us as women, when they don’t identify us as gay, to be the relationship formers and preservers. The down side of that is that a lot of women will get themselves caught in relationships that then become exclusive — again, I think, to the extent that they didn’t have couples that came forward. You have to make a choice; you can study like a son of a bitch, and you can put some energy into being a couple, or you can study like a son of a bitch and put some energy into political activity, but I know I couldn’t do all three. That work ethic does later influence your ideas about relationships.