Andy Cemelli: Is anybody here from the Con? When we were in the Gay Union it was rare, exceedingly rare, that we would get anyone in the Con to a Union meeting. What is interesting now is that through this affiliate alumni group, there are a number of Con people who are really interested in what is going on. They really want to know all of a sudden. They are really interested in being gay and have started to do all that other stuff.
Susan Hart: I think that if you look at it in a social context it makes a lot of sense for people in the Con or in art history, or whatever group where you might have had a large proportion of queer people. Because they feel safer in their everyday context, they wouldn’t feel the need to be more political and join the Union crowd. It is too bad that there were certain people who did have this intense need, and the only way that things were going to happen for them was if they were political. They felt, as you apparently do, that other people were reaping the benefits of this but weren’t really helping a hell of a lot. I think a lot of it might have been basically that they felt safe in their own context and just didn’t have such pressure to do that. Maybe it isn’t so much helping the cause as much as being supportive of the cause, which is what bothered me.
Andrew Deppe: I think you are right that there was a certain level of snobbery, especially among a certain group of people. A lot of them were New Yorkers; a lot of them were art students; a lot of them hung out at the disco listening to their new wave punk kind of music, but there was over that a lot of bisexuality and everything. I was on the fringe of that. I was not cute; I didn’t know how to dress. I was also a sort of odd individualist kind of person. I had friends in a lot of different social circles at Oberlin, and a lot of them were in that crowd and the kind of handsome off-putting attitude in your people, Nori. A lot of them were gay, but they felt like they didn’t need to be politically involved because they were already cool. All their friends were already cool about their being gay. But they were out and they would sit and have coffee and say, “Oh, he is so gorgeous, I want to sit on his face.” That was totally permissible, but you didn’t need to be involved politically, and coming-out issues were passé. That was going on when people were riding on the crest of all the political work people were doing in the lesbian and gay communities on campus — just coming in and feeling, maybe not even feeling it, but just being buoyed up by that and enabled to be out and comfortable. A lot of us participated in that and felt unchallenged. I felt like I was able to do a lot of things but that was not the big deal. Then when I got back to Chicago, that is what got me back into lesbian and gay stuff, because it is so Precambrian. You have to start from square one and do Gay 101 with people; it is unbelievable.
Beth DeSombre: I didn’t experience the social thing quite as seriously, but there was a certain pressure to fit in if you were going to be a lesbian or bisexual here. There was this whole group of us that came here, the class of 1988, with really long hair, and we all left with really short hair. I was the holdout. In fact, the summer after my sophomore year I was living with a bunch of lesbians; we were working at the co-op on the cape and all of them had short hair. I had been a dyke longer than they had, and all of them sort of fit the mold; I still had hair down to my waist. We would go bowling a lot, and in the bowling lanes there were always these coupons for two dollars off a haircut or something and I just kept getting these coupons. When I got back here I had to cut my hair or I couldn’t be a dyke. I cut my hair my junior year, and I think it finally happened after people stopped telling me to. I was determined, as long as I had to have short hair to fit in; I was enough of an individual that I wasn’t going to do it. I was going to have the longest hair on campus. Finally people stopped telling me and I decided, “Hey, I can have short hair. I would like it.” I got my hair cut short and I did like it, but there was definitely a lot of pressure for me to do it.
Terry Maroney: I have to respond to that because I did the exact same thing. I refused to cut my hair and grew my hair long. It was a rebellion thing or something, and as soon as I got out of Oberlin I cut my hair off and it has been gone ever since.
Nori Mandell: Me, too. I kept long hair the whole time I was here and got to San Francisco and cut it. We’re all fucking individuals.
Terry Maroney: Another way that I rebelled was from the way you are supposed to be if you were going to be a lesbian at Oberlin. I felt really unbalanced just by the generation, just the fact that you were only around lesbians and gay men of your own generation. I have always drawn a lot from lesbian history and from being around older lesbians and learning from what has gone before me. I felt very limited here and actually felt very strange my last year in terms of being a lesbian. I couldn’t find a girl friend; nobody would go out with me. The only woman who wanted to go out with me was a straight woman, and she had a boyfriend. She was madly in love with me for some reason, but I had the sense not to do that. But the second I got out of Oberlin I cut all my hair off and within a month I was involved with a woman who was forty-two years old. I was just ecstatic to be exposed to other aspects of being a lesbian and it was very exciting.
Andy Cemelli: Like I said, I was gay when I was in high school. I was involved with no one younger than twenty, no, thirty-seven. I was going out with men who were thirty-seven on up to forties in high school. When I got here, there were these people my own age who were gay and I got really tired of the whining, “Oh, I’m gay and I don’t know what to do about it.” I was doing part of that myself, but more in a coming out way. I loved being gay; I loved sex. That was not a problem for me at all, and all these guys were whining, “I don’t know, sex is really weird and I’m gay and…” I had sort of had it with that and I felt similarly. In high school I spent most of the time making these other guys comfortable, the thirty-seven-year-olds who were freaked out a bit back when they were young. I thought, “Get over it. We can hold hands in the car; they’re not going to run us off the road.”
I remember being here and being very desperate when Brian McNaught came along. I thought, “Oh, my God, an older gay man who has a real life in the world!” They weren’t professional gays, they weren’t out; they were simply gay and did all sorts of other jobs. Then I came here and saw all of these kids who were very freaked out about being gay. Some of them were very well-adjusted, and some of them were totally too cool for words. I just wanted to meet somebody who was, “I’m gay, it’s okay.” When I would meet these role models that would come in for a week and would disappear again, I was desperate to be in contact with them. I was talking about this last night with Bill. The faculty here somehow seemed totally separate from that. We all knew who the gay people were in the faculty and the administration, but somehow they seemed totally separated from anything we could be involved with. I would never think of going to ask any of the gay administrators if they would be our advisor for the Union. We had John Thompson, who is very wonderful but a straight man, as an advisor for years. It’s just that whole age thing gets me going. That’s a role thing, not just an age thing. They’re playing the in loco parentis role.