Gay Meaning

By Arthur Evans

Zapping the System

In November 1971, I was a member of a group of gay and lesbian activists who occupied the office of the district attorney in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York. Our goal was to conduct a citizen’s arrest of the D.A. (George Aspland) for malfeasance in office. He had ignored repeated appeals to investigate the county police for their violent attacks against local gay people.

As we waited in the reception area of the D.A.’s office, six or seven plainclothes police suddenly stormed in, swinging blackjacks. Two gay men suffered broken noses, and one lesbian suffered a broken rib, which punctured her lung. Two legal observers for the ACLU were also roughed-up. One arrested gay man was beaten in his cell and told that if he didn’t “stop this gay lib business,” he would be found dead and bearing a planted gun.

By coincidence, the Suffolk County Legislature was in session in a nearby building. After stumbling out of the D.A. ‘s office, faces bloodied, we disrupted the legislature, describing to the shocked members what the police had just done in the building next door.

As a result of these events, the Suffolk County Executive (H.L. Dennison) publicly denounced the police for brutality, the ACLU called for a federal investigation for violation of our civil rights, and the local Long Island press gave the matter extended coverage. Local gay people, who had long felt isolated and terrorized by the police, realized that they were not alone and that they could fight back. Long Island came to understand the meaning of gay liberation.

I Brake for Frogs

Five years later, in 1976, I was involved in a different kind of gay meaning. The scene was San Francisco’s Sutro Park, near the beach at Land’s End. A new group I had helped create, the Faery Circle, had decided to conduct a night-time ritual here. It was held in honor of the ancient Roman goddess Diana, whose statue overlooks the Roman-like ruins of the old Sutro Baths. We gathered in a semi-circle before the goddess, chanting her name, and calling down the power of the moon, which the ancients identified with her. Since Diana is also the patron of animals, one celebrant (Earl Galvin) wore an enormous green frog’s head that he had made. He also carried a large banner of Our Lady of Guadeloupe (to remind Mary of her pagan roots!). After paying our respects to Diana, we descended to the beach, crossing the highway that separated it from the park. As we did so, motorists were forced to a jaw-dropping stop by the spectacle of a giant frog crossing the road with a banner of the Virgin Mary. After the frog came a procession of men wearing dresses and brightly flowing gowns, tinkling finger symbols, and chanting the name of Diana.

Once we got to the beach, we built a fire, chanted, and danced joyously in a circle. We experienced in the flesh an ancient system of meaning that had validated human sexuality.

Logic, Sex, and Mysticism

Today, 21 years after our tribute to Diana, I find myself involved in yet another kind of gay meaning. After nine years work, I’ve just completed a book that takes the spirit of Stonewall activism and faery consciousness and applies it to the great philosophical questions. My book, Critique of Patriarchal Reason, shows how modem scientific “rationality” is rooted in patriarchal religious myths. The book opens the door to a whole new concept of reason, one that validates the life-experiences of women, gay people, artists, and spiritual visionaries. In researching this book, I made a surprising discovery concerning the famous gay philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: his conflicted attitude toward his homosexuality affected his theories of logic, language, and mysticism. In working on this material, I came to realize how far-reaching the implications of gay meaning can be.

Meaning is Made, Not Found

My experiences as a gay political activist, faery celebrant, and gay scholarly researcher have been quite diverse. Yet they all share a common determination to create meaning, based on a positive sense of gay identity.

I am not alone in having such a motivation. Whether as political activists, spiritual seekers, or innovative scholars, many lesbians and gay men are now challenging the prevailing assumptions of our time. They are also helping to create a more humane and livable world. The experiences of a lifetime tell me that this process — of challenging what is taken for granted and of building something better — is part of what it means to create and live a meaningful human life.

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