Robert Martin ’63, on “Gay Life at Wesleyan Before Stonewall”

For those who glossed over the Hermes‘ fall issue (possibly still available beneath the Argus piles in Olin/Exley lobbies—give it a glance), I’m reposting this archival 1994 article because, you know, it’s pretty damn interesting, and because the excerpts are now available online.

Robert Martin ’63, who attended Wesleyan in the last of its days as an all-male, small, Methodist institution, reflects on what it meant to be gay at Wesleyan at the verge of national queer liberation movements:

However important Stonewall was, it didn’t come from nowhere. Part of it was made possible by the kinds of gay undergrounds that existed at Wesleyan and almost every other American college. Gay magazines such as One were available and taking the place of muscle mags. After some half-hearted attempts my first year, I gave up the pretence of dating. But I insisted on going to campus events, even if alone. I wore a tuxedo and went with group of gay men to my senior prom. I had paid for it; why shouldn’t I enjoy it? I wasn’t ready to dance at it yet, but I wasn’t ready to be invisible either. As it turned out, my formal shirt got badly ripped when my classmate Paul tried to pull it off on a dark street. We were there in ’62, camping it up, singing Gilbert and Sullivan at the top of our lungs, seeking the ever more refined and recherché, drooling over the blond beauties, marching for civil rights in the South, and caught in dark embraces. We knew who we were and what we wanted, and we would get it soon.

Hardly a decade later, in March of 1975, the following open advertisement for a queer coalition would appear in the Argus, arguably a bold, early predecessor to today’s Wednesday Night Football meetings:

Coming to terms with gay feelings is difficult in this society, but especially at Wesleyan. About 15 Wes. People have been meeting: two times within the last two weeks, to discuss both what the needs are and what directions this group could take. Any member of the Wes. Community who feels that s/he is predominantly or exclusively gay are invited to the next meeting. For more info, the time and date, Call Bill 346-2448, after 8 p.m. Keep Trying. Your anonymity will be guaranteed. It commits you to nothing.

For a broader, historical account of queer life at Wesleyan between 1975 and 2000, I strongly recommend this well-researched, highly readable overview by Phil Gentry ’02, who traces queer movements from that first Argus posting all the way to the queer chalking controversies of the late ’90s. Check it.

You might as well read the Hermes online while you’re at it.

4 thoughts on “Robert Martin ’63, on “Gay Life at Wesleyan Before Stonewall”

  1. PMG

    aww shucks, thanks! I wrote that paper my sophomore year as part of a larger effort by various campus activist groups to research their histories.

    Phil ’02

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