Anne Harrington: It is interesting; people who were here at the same time had very different views of what was going on. I didn’t really come out until my junior year, but being in the Conservatory, most of my friends were gay. It was really interesting for me because I was their token straight friend, and they were very upset when I came out. They thought, ‘Boy, we finally met a nice straight person. What happened to her?’ It was just really amusing to me. Once I came out, I had already been part of the gay community, so it was really easy for me to get more involved. I ended up co-teaching a gay and lesbian class. I think it was called, `Alternative Social Structures; The Gay Subculture.’
Gareth Fenley: Put on the tape about the thing at EXCO.
Anne Harrington: Oh, yeah, the EXCO class — there were three of us teaching it; Amy Gross ‘78, Chuck Hanson ‘83, and myself. It was really interesting because Amy picked all of the topics we were going to discuss and it was everything from butch and femme to bisexuality to, you name it; it was in the class. When we were interviewed by the EXCO committee — it was very interesting — they wanted to know what we were going to teach in this class. They saw our syllabus and their one question was ‘Explain butch and femme to us.’ So Amy rose and in her very individual way said, ‘Well, way back in the ‘50s there was this thing about butch and femme, but nobody wanted to be a femme anymore, so it just disappeared.’
It was a really interesting experience teaching a class because we must have had thirty people. The first day we got all in a circle and we wanted to know why we were there. Everybody had to state why they were there, and we had people saying, ‘I’m straight! but, um, I’m interested in this because, well, principle.’ We had a few people saying, ‘I’m gay and I’m proud of it,’ and the rest of the people would cringe away from them. The one thing I was really pleased about was that we had two people there — one man and one woman — who were straight and had been frightened by one of their friends who were gay. They took the class because they wanted to understand more and not have any problems dealing with this. I thought that was just so good! But it was a really good experience teaching; I found out all sorts of things.
Elizabeth Wright: Oberlin students are so earnest about learning things and exposing themselves to new experiences, at least intellectual ones. When I was a freshwoman in Fairchild, we had a series of discussion groups about various topics. One of them was about sex, and all of these freshmen were talking about sex as if the only possible thing you could be referring to was sexual intercourse with a man. One of the RC’s finally said, ‘You know, there are other things we could be talking about here. For example, you could have sex with a woman,’ and there was dead silence among all these freshman women. Then she proceeded to describe how she had felt that one could not really equally value men and women in your male and female relationships if you were only open to sex with a man, so she and a friend had decided they would experiment. She said it was really very nice, and she didn’t go into great detail but that is what she said.
There was at least one out lesbian in the dorm, so by the end of the first semester I was absolutely convinced intellectually that to be truly egalitarian one should be bisexual. I went home and announced this to my mother, who was a little bit perturbed by this, though not greatly. It does show you how Oberlin students, how their politics or their intellectual ideas go ahead of everything else. For two or three years I was theoretically bisexual, though not often sexual at all, at least not with anybody else. Yet, when the time came, when I fell in love with another woman, that experience had, in fact, prepared me to accept my new state, to enjoy it, not to agonize. My coming out was remarkably easy because I was here and because I had done that work ahead of time. I still remember that RC with great fondness.
Anne Harrington: I moved in at the beginning of winter term to the Women’s Collective.
Gareth Fenley: Moved in with me.
Anne Harrington: Yeah, with Gareth. We were roommates, and it was really funny because — not everybody was, but — almost everybody living in there at that time was a lesbian; maybe a few weren’t. There were eleven women, and by the end of the year everyone had come out as lesbian except for one woman who said she was bisexual. Those were the official residents and then there was the Ladies’ Auxiliary, women who just came in to visit. The one thing I remember over winter term, because people had a lot of time, was one woman and her lover came around one evening, came in and woke everybody up, and dragged us all down to the lounge. They wanted to play spin the bottle. It was the funniest thing and it got really wild. There were all sorts of reminiscences about being forced to do this and kiss boys, and it was just so much fun. It lasted until they finally got two bottles going at once. They hit and broke and it sort of dissolved. It all broke up, but we used to have some really fun social events there.
Gareth Fenley: Do you remember about the crabs?
Anne Harrington: Oh, God, no, it was scabies. When I moved into the Women’s Collective there was an incredible complexity of sexual relationships among the women there. I was the only woman there who never had sex with anyone else in that dorm, and I missed out on it.
Gareth Fenley: That was because you were on the top floor. I mean we were up there in the middle of nowhere; we didn’t have adjoining rooms.
Anne Harrington: There was this thing about how someone in the Women’s Collective had somehow gotten scabies, which are little pubic crabs and little bugs that get under your skin and you can get them very easily; you didn’t have to have sex to get them. You can get them from just sitting on the couch. There was this whole thing about which beds had had scabies, who had slept in which bed, and who had slept with whom. It was okay if you sleep with people; just don’t bring any of these bugs back to me. It was one of the things that kept me celibate my junior year. I didn’t want to get anything like that. It was fun, though.
Gareth Fenley: Another thing I wanted to say on the tape was to remember the National Steering Committee meeting that was held here in about 1982. This was an organizing meeting for what eventually became the huge 1987 march on Washington. It was a national meeting and there were delegates elected from all the states. It was a very complicated process. Someone had set up that delegates from as far as Alaska were supposed to be chosen by their local gay communities and sent to this nationally convened gay meeting. They were all supposed to plan the formation of some new organization and new event. What eventually came out of it was the march.
It was just incredible that this meeting was held at Oberlin. I remember that the big controversy had to do with the NAMBLA (The North American Man Boy Love Association) delegates. I remember the conference was held in King 306 and was open to students. Students could go and attend but it was a meeting of these people who had assembled nationally; it wasn’t of and by the students. Sitting in on this and listening to these incredible debates, I remember that Joyce Hunter was here. She spoke out incredibly persuasively and forcefully against the NAMBLA delegates. There was some controversy over whether those people would be seated as delegates, but she particularly spoke out against them. What they wanted was a plank in the platform which said that age limits would not be imposed on sexuality. Joyce Hunter said that pedophilia was exploiting young boys. I think she used the phrase, ‘They were ripping off our children.’ And so here I was in this room and here were these national leaders of the gay movement debating issues of incredible importance, and it was just amazing. I don’t even know exactly when that was held or why it was held here.