I’m writing this post because I’m working on a book right now that’s set in the l960’s. I have many older gay friends who’ve been helping me out with research. And articles like this have been insightful.
But I have to admit that it’s hard…damned hard…to fully understand what it must have been like back then. I can only imagine and hope I do it justice.
Gay in the 1960s — the time was ripe for revolution
By Warren Allen Smith
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
Gay life in the 1960s was, for sure, an entirely different time, a time in which falling in love monthly, or even weekly, was neither impossible nor improbable.
It was a dangerous time, however, to be openly gay. Physicians who cured our venereal diseases scolded us for having done what we did to get sick. Psychiatrists ruled that we were mentally sick. Neighbors maliciously gossiped about who was visiting late last night. Landlords asked gay couples, hoping to rent, if they were related. Monotheists called us sinners, threatening that if we didn’t choose to be heterosexual we would not get to Heaven (making that theological invention all the more undesirable). If we were slightly on the fey side, we could get a black eye, a bloody lip or worse. Sometimes, in self-defense, we related antigay jokes to throw people off.
Even if we carefully stayed in the closet, it was difficult to play The Majority’s game. When I was an acting first sergeant in charge of a company that landed on Omaha Beach in 1944, I did play the game, difficult as it was. Although I preferred music, art, poetry and ballet to sports, I guarded against expressing myself. Whenever I got a leave during the time I was in the Army, I chose to travel alone. Who better than gays to understand Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”!
In 1969, Vice President Spiro Agnew would have become president if Richard Nixon had died. Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand tied as best actresses for an Oscar. “1776” and “The Great White Hope” won Antoinette Perry awards. Billie Jean King was one of the top tennis players. If treated, gonorrhea, syphilis and other venereal diseases were not life threatening. It cost 20 cents to ride the subway.
Sex in New York City was readily available, night and day. The Rambles in Central Park was one place where openly gay male sex occurred and allegedly had ever since the William Cullen Bryant-inspired area first opened. All that shrubbery, all those dark places in which to hide and to meet….
Many small parks had gay meeting spots, and all large parks had cruising areas. Brooklyn’s Prospect Park had several busy sites. Riverside Drive’s area stretched from the Soldiers and Sailors Monument to General Grant’s Tomb and on up past Harlem. Parks along the East River and areas near the Battery were places to hook up. The park at Washington Sq. was appealing, particularly the northwest corner where guys leaned suggestively on the railings. If anyone asked the time, he really was inviting you to his nearby apartment. Rendezvous were followed by an exchange of names and phone numbers — wrong numbers, of course, if either thought he might do better falling in love after a one-night stand with someone else tomorrow.