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Early Gay Liberation Movement at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, 1971-1978
Lambda Line

More About 'Boys'

The Iowa State University Daily, December 14, 1971

This was the first time Joey Franko used his name in a letter to the editor; to the best of my knowledge it was the first time anyone publicly said they were gay on campus and the first time anyone's name was listed as gay in a letter to the editor in the Daily.

There is significance in such a radical action framed in the time period in which it happened. This letter to the editor on this date marked yet another change in the world as Ames had previously known it.

More about "Boys in the Band"

More about 'Boys'

To the editor:

Perhaps the best way to answer Mr. Henriksen's letter (Boys in the Band, December 8) is for me to confine myself to the points Mr. Henriksen is making, and not to his judgments of me. That way I can avoid making the same mistakes he does. I may very well be "contradictory, inaccurate, and (worst of all) irresponsible." But Mr. Henriksen could not possibly know it. We have never met. And I'm not particularly happy being stereotyped by Mr. Henriksen or the play he represents.

"Of the play's nine homosexual characters, only two contain even the faintest elements of the homosexual cliché." Most people would recognize a homosexual cliché or stereotype only if they fell over it. The fact that all of the characters in the play have a different background, a different series of hangups, a different series of "triumphs and failures," does not mean that they aren't stereotyped. They are, indeed, stereotyped by their self-hate and self-pity. Each of the characters is filled with self-hate. If they could be anything but homosexuals, they would be. They hate themselves for what they are, and they hate each other for being reflections of their own self-hate.

It is this psychological stereotyping which caused Gay Liberation groups to be formed. I couldn't care less that people think of the homosexual as some distinct physical type. But I feel a great deal about being stereotyped as "sick" or "perverted," for it is this psychological stereotyping which has caused such harm to my gay brothers and sisters. If Mr. Henriksen can not see this psychological stereotyping at work in the play, then he should not have acted in the play. He has missed the play's point completely. The play is saying, "Look at all these poor, imbalanced neurotics. Have pity on these poor, sick, imbalanced creatures." And that is the way this play presents homosexuals. They are "creatures" who fascinate us with their "sickness." I, as a gay who does not feel particularly neurotic or sick, resent it when someone who doesn't know me tries to stereotype me in that way. The play is "trash" and "pure sensationalism" because it accepts the stereotype of the sick homosexual, even if it does not accept the more common stereotypes about us manifested by the straight culture. The play is unrealistic not because of its ending (I never said that in my letter, Mr. Henriksen), but because of its beginning, because of the assumptions on which the play begins and operates.

As for the critics, they are notoriously blind in this area. They are only concerned with the aesthetics of this play. Is there a confrontation? Is there a resolution? These are the questions which with the critic deals. It is not the critic's job to question society's stereotypes. He is, too often, a perpetuator of some of society's more obvious assumptions. But it is the author's job to question the values and assumptions of society. Mr. Crowley has failed to even come close to his responsibility as an artist. He accepts society's stereotypes and then he tries to elaborate and expand on them.

I admit to my seeming contradiction as regards to the question of "balance." But this contradiction is fostered by the imbalance perpetuated by this university. On the heterosexual side, the university offers a course in "Marriage and Courtship." To the homosexual, the university offers only "Abnormal Behavior." The university balances its pro-homosexuality lecture with a pro-heterosexuality lecture; but it leaves the anti-homosexual courses, and plays such as Boys in the Band, completely alone and imbalanced. The university does not feel the need to balance its antihomosexuality propaganda, only its prohomosexuality propaganda.

That is one reason why I condemned the straight media. Yes, Mr. Henriksen, I do think it is possible "to be heterosexual and still deplore discrimination against homosexuals." One doesn't "have to be black to detest racial discrimination." One doesn't have to be Jewish to detest Nazism. However, only a black can see the extent to which racism is inherent in our white culture. Only a Jew can feel the pangs of anti-Semitism. Only a woman knows to what extent she is oppressed by "Marriage and Courtship." And only a homosexual, Mr. Henriksen, can appreciate the subtle heterosexual propaganda and prejudice against homosexuals in our culture. Perhaps that is why I can forgive you your letter, Mr. Henriksen. As a heterosexual (I presume), you can only vaguely understand what I'm trying to say, what some people in Gay Liberation are trying to say. Had a homosexual written your letter it would only indicate the extent to which he had internalized the psychological propaganda of our culture. If they are any homosexuals like those in the play, it is because they, too, have internalized the crap society puts out as truth. That, Mr. Henriksen, is what Gay Liberation is all about.

Joe Franko
ISU '70 (see also: Joe's obituary, 2014)

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