A Quest for Knowledge:
HARRY HAY

at NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
1983

 
The following comments by Harry Hay were given at a public forum on February 22, 1983, at New York University cosponsored by the NYU gay group and the Stop the Witchhunt Committee, which had been formed to counteract a massive campaign by the FBI and the New York City police to smear NAMBLA as having kidnapped and murdered six-year-old Etan Patz.  The episode is documented in the book, A Witchhunt Foiled: The FBI vs. NAMBLA (New York: NAMBLA, 1985), for which Harry wrote a promotional blurb.  Other speakers on the panel were John Burnside, Katherine Davenport, representing the Stop the Witchhunt Committee, and Michael J. Lavery, longtime New York gay activist.



Back in 1925, when I was thirteen years old, my comparatively well-off father, who didn’t believe in coddling the children, decided that I was old enough to begin to do man’s work. And so he arranged to ship me off—at that time we lived in Los Angeles—to western Nevada to work in the hay fields, with migratory workers who went through that area.  I would go up there, I would earn three dollars a day and board.  At that time there was no direct transportation between Los Angeles and what would be Reno.  The transportation, as far as we could figure out, was a train that went fifty miles partly out of their way.  They joined the jitney about another 150 miles, which joined a sometimes bus that ran on Tuesdays and Fridays and took chickens and eggs to the farms from the end of the jitney line to Mono Lake, and there everything stopped dead.  I had another 150 miles to go, and nobody had the foggiest notion of how I was going to make it.  But I was put on the train, and I went. The story is not how I got there, the point is I did get there.  The point is that I was traveling as a man.  I’m thirteen.  I’m a child.  I go up into the area.

The next year, I go up on point team.  Between thirteen and fourteen, I had begun to hear about the fact that there are men who sometimes like boys, and I want very much to know about these things.  I’d heard about this from the men who worked in the fields the year before.  They told me about them; they called them “fairies.”   And of course they didn’t call the usual civilities.  I didn’t tell them that I was listening to every word they said and storing it up for future use.  I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it that summer, but the following summer, when I was fourteen, I was bound and determined that I was going to do something about that.

When I was fourteen, I went up to work for it in the summertime again, as I had done the year before, but this year I’m not an inexperienced man and I make five dollars a day and board.  I do more complicated work, I am able to work as well as any migratory man in the field.  I work there for three months, I come down to San Francisco, and I ship from San Francisco back to Los Angeles by a freighter.  I get a job on the freighter.  It took two and a half days for the freighter to go from San Francisco to Los Angeles in those days, and they break at San Luis Obispo.  They go in for the night to San Luis Obispo proper.  I’m checking it out with the fellows because in one of the places they had some rotgut—remember, this is Prohibition—and then get all looped with the queers.  I decided, I don’t want to go with the queers, but I might go out and watch the fellows go in and out and watch everything else.  But the point is that I had perfect choice.  I had the right to make a choice.  I am fourteen; I am earning a man’s board, a man’s labor, I’m being treated as a man at fourteen, and I’m making all kinds of decisions at fourteen.  But from the point of view that you are hearing, I am a child.

The point is that I was perfectly capable of handling myself and knowing exactly what I wanted.  But this year I knew that I wanted to find a man to tell me what I wanted to know.  So, at fourteen, you realize, I’m a child molester.  I’m a child, and I’m molesting an adult till I find out what I want to know.  And I found him, and he was shocked. Then he discovered that, rather than being a man, as he suspected that I was from the way I looked—my callouses on my hands, and the way I handled myself, and my clothing—that I was only a fourteen-year-old kid, and if anybody found out about it he’d be in jail for life, or, at least in California twenty-three years in that period.

I’m telling you this story, and I’m saying it tonight, in memory of a man—all I can remember is that his name was Matt. And I send to all of you my love and deep affection for what you offer to the boys, in honor of this boy when he was fourteen, and when he needed to know best of all what only another gay man could show him and tell him.

I also would like to say at this point that it seems to me that in the gay community the people who should be running interference for NAMBLA are the parents and friends of gays.  Because if the parents and friends of gays are truly friends of gays, they would know from their gay kids that the relationship with an older man is precisely what thirteen-, fourteen-, and fifteen-year-old kids need more than anything else in the world.   And they would be welcoming this, and welcoming the opportunity for young gay kids to have the kind of experience that they would need.

So, again, as I said, my offering is not as a member of NAMBLA, but in memory of that fourteen-year-old boy who was handled by Matt so long ago.  And in memorial to Matt, I offer you my love.


Copyright © NAMBLA, 2003. All rights reserved.