Personal Histories – Roger Goodman (OC 68) (page 3 of 3)

The interesting thing that I found about sex at Oberlin with me was that so-called straight men felt free enough to be able to, through various kinds of subterfuge, to explore their gayness because they trusted me…So I would get stoned with a friend who I’d think was very hot; I remember one particularly who I thought was just divinely beautiful…These straight boys, I tell you, they really used to love to walk around in front of me with their shirts off. They were looking for blow jobs and they were looking for a blow job with this out gay person who wouldn’t mind givin’ it to ‘em! And who wouldn’t ridicule them for wanting it because they were being themselves and I was being myself…And I think back to a number of those sexual encounters and I think “they used me!” But that’s not what I thought back then…

I [also] had sex with the faggots in the Conservatory, and the college and the theatre department. We were all art faggots!…Sex with faggots with much more love-making; it was an extension of friendship. My years at Oberlin allowed me to distinguish between having sex and making love. It also let me learn to feel what it was to be an object…

There were orgies in the dormitories in peoples’ rooms. I was never invited to them, which pissed me off a lot. And they were always around Bart Pitman [OC 70]; he was the focal point of the orgies…One of the people I never did have sex with was Bart. And that made sense to me because we loved each other too much and we didn’t know back then how to make love as an extension of the emotional bond; we [only] knew how to fuck. And Bart really knew; he was very precocious. Bart…would get on his motorcycle with a tube of KY Jelly stickin’ out of the rear pocket of his Levis and go to Cleveland and go to the baths…I looked to Bart Pitman as a magical man. Because he had the nerve, he had the audacity and the courage, to go into Cleveland to go to the baths…

My sexual vocabulary I got here at Oberlin. I learned a great deal about anal sex here, which was wonderful. It was actually here at Oberlin that I came to know a very important politic of mine, which is “get to know your asshole get to know yourself.” And I still think that’s true; that men who don’t get fucked don’t know themselves well enough as those who do. Because once you learn how to be penetrated, and to give that up, to sort of surrender, then you really learn a great deal about yourself as a man…I codified that in my head [at Oberlin], that getting fucked was a major political statement…

[In classrooms,] I didn’t allow professors to get away with not naming it…When we’d look at Michelangelo’s David, and the professor would talk about the beauty of the body, and isn’t this wonderful, and how could a man create such magnificent male beauty as the David? And I would say, “It’s because he loved boys! Because Michelangelo was a gay man, so he knew the bodies of men. Intimately.” Or we’d be talking about the paintings of David Hockney of naked boys swimming in swimming pools…and no mention of Hockney being gay. And I would say something in class about it and how it reflected who David Hockney was. Or talking about Gertrude Stein in an American Lit class and not talking about her being a lesbian. And I would say, “How can you talk about The Autobiography of Gertrude Stein, written by Alice B. Toklas, without recognizing that they were life partners?”…And people were shocked. They were scandalized. Because I was a scandal. Being out was a scandal. But I really thrived on scandal. I loved being the Oberlin College scandal. And so why not extend that scandal into the classroom where truth needs to be told…

[At my senior perspective,] the room was filled with students. And I think one reason the room was filled with students was because I had had four years here to be the outrage that I was…And I was pissed. I was really angry. That was 1968 and the country was in turmoil. Oberlin was a hotbed of radicalism. We published one of the finest radical journals in the entire country…And the ending of segregation, and Bull Conner down in Alabama, and the dogs attacking black people and the fire hoses on the marchers to Selma, and all of that was happening. The sit-ins in Cleveland, which I went to, a lot of them, which were terrifying things for me because mounted police were there, and the police would bring their horses right up to our bodies…And the whole thing was beginning to ferment around what was going on in Asia.

And the one thing that nobody was talking about was queer stuff. SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] was on campus, the NAACP had a chapter on campus. It was an extraordinary place. And there was no place for a queer man to be queerly involved with that radical movement. So my senior perspective was essentially a finger pointing session: “This is my experience at Oberlin over four years, and you think you all are so radical, and in fact, you are conservative and bigoted and biased, and you don’t give a shit about me or my people.” Because I was beginning to have a sense of my people at Oberlin…I guess because there were a number of out students in the Conservatory by that time…

I think that [watching the McCarthy hearings as a child] was a moment that somehow instilled in me a sense of justice versus injustice. And part of me being a scandal at Oberlin was me fighting for justice. Justice for myself and certainly justice for my friends in the Conservatory. I had no concept of justice outside of Oberlin until I got to Chicago after I graduated and I was very much involved in the formation of the Gay Liberation Front after Stonewall…I realized at Stonewall [that] there was indeed this thing, this community of angry gay men who bore this same anger towards society that I bore for making us hate ourselves! The anger was directed at the police during the riots. It was a release of self-directed anger…Once you say, “No, I cannot do this anymore,” you are beginning to love yourself. Put up your hand and say, “Stop, in the name of love!” And it is in the name of love—the name of self-love…

The biggest thing that I got here from my years as an undergraduate at Oberlin was that I learned to love myself, and I came here the most self-hating, self-loathing worm…Those years helped form me into the person who took to the streets, baths, restrooms, and the subway stations of New York, and the dirty movie theatres and the backroom bars. Those years at Oberlin helped form me into the person that [I became] in the early eighties. And that was the person that contracted HIV. But how can I regret any of that? If I regret that I would have to regret my years at Oberlin. And how can I regret my years at Oberlin? I can’t.

For more about Roger Goodman, see his website.

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