HARRY HAY
San Francisco, 1984

The following comments by Harry Hay are from a public forum on the topic “Man/Boy Love and Sexual Liberation” held during a NAMBLA conference at the Pride Center in San Francisco, October 7, 1984.   The panelists were Hay, David Thorstad (a cofounder of NAMBLA and former president of New York’s Gay Activists Alliance), Jim Kepner (founder of the Barney / Carpenter lesbian and gay archives), Morris Kight (longtime gay activist from Los Angeles), and Jes Harrison (a sixteen-year-old gay youth). Ellipses indicate brief passages that were unintelligible, mostly because of Harry’s swift delivery and the persistent coughing of persons near the mike.

I came to the conference to speak to some rather specific concerns.  I am not myself a member of NAMBLA.  However, I do wish to speak very strongly about the nine-year-old, the eleven-year-old, the twelve-year-old, the fourteen-year-old boy I was.  I would like very much to contribute the experiences that I had at that time and give honor to the men who were there when I needed them so very desperately, and who reached out in love, and who reached out in trust, and who gave me the opportunity to learn love and trust at a very early age.

First of all, however, I would like to state a proposition that needs to be stirred into the magnificent amalgam that we have heard here tonight at this safe home.  I’d like to say that I’d like to propose to you that a gay boy approaching puberty is rather a different person from a straight boy approaching puberty, and that a great deal of the nonsense that we have heard from very well-meaning people, particularly what I would refer to as the mother-knows-best crowd, are speaking about the straight people, about whom we have very little information, and very little about the gay boys who are coming into puberty, about which we’ve heard practically nothing.  As a matter of fact, I might even suggest that gay boys, whether they’re little or whether they’re big, and straight boys are really quite different persons.

I would like to suggest, for example, that I leave you a picture of a straight boy’s family that moved from San Francisco to Eugene, Oregon.  And the little straight boy, nine or ten years old, comes into a church group of young people who are involved in something together on Saturday.  And he comes into the group and they’re all busy doing something.  The very first thing the little straight boy’s going to do is call somebody’s attention.  “What are we supposed to be doing?”  And when he finds out what it is we are supposed to be doing and gets into the act himself . . . he’s home, he’s secure, he’s safe, he’s happy.

But a little gay boy comes into the same situation and he doesn’t ask anybody what he should do—he knows, he knows automatically.  He doesn’t respond to the external stimuli as do the straights.  He can decide what he wants to do, and what they’re doing there, and it doesn’t matter what anybody else is doing there, he wants to take the pink and the purple and put it together and draw for himself….

This extreme difference in being concerned with the external stimuli… is an enormous difference, and it’s a difference, I think, that we carry with us all our lives….

I mention that because I think that the twelve-year-old, thirteen-year-old boy approaching puberty knows very well that there are things about himself that he needs to find out, that he needs to discover, and he wants very much to reach out and find someone who will give this to him.  But he is not asking the people outside what it is he should be finding out.  He already has the instinct to know that a great many of the things that he feels in himself are things he cannot share with anybody.  He feels that the thing that he is he is alone in the world, that he cannot share it with his parents, he cannot share it with his teachers, he cannot share it with many, even most, people. But he needs to look for that someone with whom he can share.

Now, I also want to speak about another type of thing that I think happens to all of us when we are eleven, twelve, thirteen years old.  And again, I haven’t heard it referred to.  We hear a great deal these days about child molestation.  I think of me by myself at twelve years old.  In Los Angeles, where I grew up in the twenties, there was a very handsome, very famous spa—a series of swimming pools, based on a hot springs…  It had probably been there since the turn of the century.  At one time, it must have been a very handsome, very elegant place.  At the time we knew it, …it was still considered a very nice place to go. It was divided into two pools on one side, and on the other side there was a pool for the ladies.  This pool was well lit.  The two pools on the other side, for the fellas, were sort of a dark brown-green, as far as I can remember, and there was one pool that was maybe a foot and a half at one end and about five feet at the other and it had a diving board on it so, you know, you could get hurt, and a nice big fountain in the center.  Then there was the other pool, that began at 4 and ended at 9 p.m., and they had an Olympic diving board.

So I’m about twelve years old and I swim very well at this point—very good swimming underwater and various other things.  And so I don’t go into the kids’ pool, I  go in the big pool.  And I had this experience probably five or six times.  Some man comes up to me, wants me to see how long he can stay underwater.  And it’s important for me to understand just how long he stays underwater.  He’s going to go way down to the other end of the pool and he’s going to come up between my legs and he’s going to come out the other end.  So he goes down to the other side, he swims through my legs, and he [does?] my cock out of my bathing suit and he caresses it a couple of times and comes out the other end.  And then he is going to come back.  So he comes back through again, and this time spends a little more time.

Now, the point I’m getting at is I’m not only being played with—very pleasurable indeed—but even though it’s pleasurable, here I am twelve and I can’t say I’m getting as much out of it as he can because I’m not at that point yet….  But he keeps this up for about five or seven minutes.  Well, I’m getting a little impatient, because, you know, I’m sitting here and I can see he can swim back and forth very well.  And I keep saying, “Look, that’s fine, I’d like to have fun, and now I want to go dive.  I want to swim.” But he can’t hear—he’s on his way back through.

I think it’s important to realize that I know perfectly well that I can stop this game any moment that I want.  I can call the attention of the kids around me to what’s happening.  And I know perfectly well that he’s going to be hauled off.  I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen to him, but I know they will come and get him because I’ve seen that happen before, already at twelve years old.  But I am not going to reveal this man.  I’m not going to reveal him because in me there’s a sense of loyalty.  I’m not going to reveal him to the others around him,  I’m not going to expose him, and I’m also not going to expose myself either….

So the point is that I am being manipulated.  I am not going to reveal him so that he can keep playing his game.  But I am not being molested, because that was as controlled a situation as I know of.  This has happened to me maybe four or five or six times.   But I think this is something we have not talked about.  This is something that in our own past as gay people we all must have experienced one way or another.  We do have this sense of loyalty.  We do have this gay way of being manipulated or being exploited; molested we are not.  Being brainwashed we are not.  We are actually participants in this little game….

This is not something we are being taught.  This is not something we are being shared with by our own kids around us.  This is something we seem to know from somewhere.  And I don’t think we necessarily know where this comes from.

Finally, I want to simply say that I have love and honor to a man named Matt.  I don’t know his last name.  At this point now, if he’s alive, he must be close to ninety.  This is something that happened to me in 1926.  I’m fourteen years old.  As far as the law is concerned, I’m a child.  For two years I had been sent by my father to work in the hay fields in Nevada.  In the summertime, I am doing a man’s work and getting a man’s pay and I’m living a man’s life.  I would go with the rest of the migratory workers to a town thirty miles away on a Saturday night…and I can get drunk with the fellows at the speakeasy, because this was Prohibition times….

On the way home, I come down through San Francisco and I figured that instead of spending money on the train coming home, I’ll get a job on a freighter….  And I did this.  And right next to me swabbing deck was this very nice twenty-five-year-old guy, and he suddenly appeared to me to be one of the people like us.  He was the first one I felt I could really trust…. And I felt that I was trusted with love.  He told me one wonderful thing that I have never forgotten:  “Once you meet a place like Zanzibar, or Dar-es-Salaam”—he had obviously been on the African coast—”you know, you can be in any one of these towns, and you can be in a place where there isn’t a language or a word being spoken that you’d recognize, and there isn’t a custom being carried out that you’re familiar with, and the smells are all strange, and you’re in a strange place, and you look across the crowd and you see a face, and all of a sudden your eyes lock in to that pair of eyes, and all of a sudden those eyes glow through to the world, if you move yourself to glow back, you’re home, and you’re safe.”

Wherever he is, I want him to know that my love and my gratitude followed him all my days, and all his days. And I’m saying to all of you:  We haven’t shared our own puberty past with each other, and certainly with the younger generation coming forward.  We have allowed all this discussion of child molestation to go on and on, but we haven’t spoken as gay men.  We should have been sharing long ago, because, after all, the younger generation coming forward…who are reaching out for that person for them to trust—we haven’t shared ourselves in that trust, giving it back to the younger generation….  We’re the ones who are going to be responsible for their coming to happiness and understanding.  And we should be about sharing and beginning that responsibility.  Thank you.

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